UB Student Association clubs face expensive license fees to show films at events

Fees as high as $1,200


Student Association clubs can screen movies at a meeting or club event, but not without paying a hefty price.

Clubs must obtain a film license before publicly showing any film, and the license fees range from about $1,200 for films that are new or just out of the theaters to about $400 for films that have been out of theaters for over a year. If an SA club shows a film without obtaining a film license, the club would be in violation of federal copyright laws and therefore subject to a $250,000 fine.

David Scarfino, UB’s LGBTA president and a sophomore occupational therapy major, said this rule inhibits clubs from showing films that pertain to topics discussed within the club.

“It makes it hard for clubs like the LGBTA to show queer-related movies and TV shows in fear of getting in huge trouble,” Scarfino said.

Marc Rosenblitt, SA entertainment coordinator, said while some clubs in the past have paid the licensing fee in order to publicly show a film, most clubs find the cost is too expensive and decide to ultimately drop the idea.

Rosenblitt said the policy is “not a new requirement” and was always a requirement due to federal copyright laws. SA has sent an annual email to clubs for the past six years reminding them they must obtain a film license before public showing of any film.

“Under IP [Intellectual Property] law, you must obtain copyrights for any public screening of a film,” Rosenblitt said in an email. “People believe that there are ‘loopholes’ because we are a school or that it matters where the film comes from.”

Clubs must acquire the license from Swank Motion Pictures or the Criterion Collection –movie distributers that specialize in licensing for films to be shown in a public setting. If Swank and Criterion do not have the film a club is looking for, the club must go to the company who released the film directly for a license.

With the trend of online streaming, some clubs have wondered if they can publicly show a film from sites like Netflix, since they are paying for the service. But streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu only cover private viewings and not public viewings, according to Rosenblitt.

Scarfino said it is difficult to find representation of LGBT in film and having access to Netflix and other forms of media which have “queer-related shows and films” allows them to show issues surrounding their club at events.

Rosenblitt said recently, distribution companies have “really cracked down on copyright infringement at college campuses.” While the companies have been focusing on illegal downloads, they have also been known to check into public viewing infringement as well. He said much of the issue is that people don’t understand copyright laws.

“There many are misconceptions on how IP law works, it’s probably the most misunderstood area of law, and many people break these laws every day without any knowledge they are doing it,” Rosenblitt said.

The only exception to the law for a school event would be a film shown in an approved or accredited course. The film would need to relate to a topic that is being taught in the class.

“If there was a communication class learning about George Lucas, they can show ‘Star Wars’ or ‘American Graffiti,’” Rosenblitt said.

Because SA clubs are not courses offered by the university for credit, they always need to pay the licensing fee, regardless if the film pertains to what is being discussed in the club.

Although some clubs don’t like having to pay such a large fee, Rosenblitt said it’s something that needs to be done in order to avoid breaking the law.

“Part of my job is to protect the Undergraduate Student Association from breaking any such laws,” Rosenblitt said. “I cannot speak to anything about how other departments or organizations handle themselves or how they manage public showings of such material, [but SA] always strive[s] to do things the right away, which absolutely includes following all laws.”

Marlee Tuskes is a news desk editor and can be reached at marlee.tuskes@ubspectrum.com. Follow her on Twitter at @marleetuskes5.