What are film screening rights?

When you buy a movie on DVD you also buy the right to screen the movie at home, on your TV or in your home cinema; and you can invite friends around to enjoy it with you, as often as you like.

But to screen a movie in a public place (just about anywhere that is not your home) you have to buy the commercial or ‘theatrical’ screening rights from the distributor who owns them. These rights entitle you to screen the movie in a public venue and to charge admission fees. But the rights can cost hundreds of dollars for a single screening of an average movie, especially if the distributor is located outside Australia. A special film can cost more than a thousand dollars. Distributors guard their rights fiercely, so if you screen a movie in public without first buying the screening rights you will almost certainly find yourself a lot poorer at the end of the inevitable legal and court processes.

Australian film societies are able to screen films under special concessions that allow them to buy ‘non-theatrical’ screening rights at lower than commercial rates. But first they have to satisfy the distributors that they are not just trying to rort the system and gain an unfair advantage over commercial cinemas that pay big bucks for their venues, licenses, screening rights, equipment, wages and overheads.

So a group that wants to become a film society must:

  • be a not-for-profit organisation;
  • comprise a membership of at least five members who pay a subscription that entitles them to participate in the society’s activities;
  • admit only members and guests to its screenings, and
  • not charge for admission to screenings.

If and when you apply for membership of the Federation we ask you to fill out a form that covers these essentials.

Make sure you read our Screening rights for DVDs Guide

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