DVD Copyright

Under Australian copyright law, it is not legal to screen a DVD or a BluRay disc in a public place without permission from the copyright holder. A ‘public place’ includes any place where the public can meet, and includes church halls, meeting rooms, etc. It does not include a private home where a DVD/BluRay is screened for a few friends and no money is involved. However, this doesn’t mean you can advertise your home screenings. If you advertise an event it becomes a public event.’

If your society has a DVD/BluRay that you want to screen in a public place, you can contact the Australian distributor who manages the copyright for the film and ask for permission or “screening rights”. If you can’t locate the rights holder you can’t screen the film.

The distributor will charge you for the screening rights. All film societies are eligible for a discount from distributors, as long as they can establish that they operate as a not-for-profit organisation and conduct the screening as a non-theatrical event (they don’t charge for admission at the door, and screen to members only). The best way to assure a distributor that you are a genuine film society is to be a registered member of a Federation.

The Federation is accredited with the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) and all commercial distributors. We are in regular contact with all distributors, regularly updating our membership information. This is their guarantee that you are a genuine film society, so you don’t have to prove who you are every time you contact them. so remember, as a member of the Australian Film Societies Federation your society will be eligible for the special rates from distributors.

Distributors such as Amalgamated and Roadshow also provide DVDs you can use if you don’t own a copy of the film you want to screen.

You can’t screen a DVD or BluRay that is hired from a video rental store. Doing this is illegal, and carries big penalties. Distributors will generally have copies of the DVD or BluRay for sale. But you can use any disc that has been purchased legally. It doesn’t have to be owned by the society but if you own the disc it can become part of your DVD/BluRay library. Remember to get permission to screen the film before you buy the DVD.

It’s not always easy to find the distributor of a film you want to screen non-theatrically.

We have instructions on how to identify the company that has the rights to the film you want to show at our Finding a distributor page.

And their contact details are here at our Film Distributor page

When you have found the distributor, made contact and gone through the formalities, they will send you an approval to screen the film. You can then start publicising it.
And if you have any queries, you can always contact us.

13 thoughts on “DVD Copyright

  1. David Donaldson

    Would it be more accurate to say that under copyright law a film in any medium which is screened in a public place will be open to a commercial claim from the owner of its copyright. Such a screening is not actually illegal in the sense of being against the law; it is just liable to paid for? Over the course of film history many films have fallen from copyright, and many owners do not have current arrangements for charging for their rights, but most feature length films now in circulation are likely to have a copyright claiming owner somewhere?

    1. jamessandry Post author

      Hi David, you make an excelent point. The “other” NFSA Collection is a huge barely used collection.
      We will try to expand the information on our site.

    2. jamessandry Post author

      Hi David Thats a good point. My understanding was that there are laws concerning copyright and if you break them you are doing something illegal regardless of what happens as a consequence. I appreciate that the most likely consequence would be that you will be open to a commercial claim from the owner of the copyright.

  2. Notsurewhattodo

    Can I screen a DVD which I have hired at a social gathering for a large group of people at my house? Or does this breach copyright.

    1. jamessandry Post author

      A DVD that you hire or buy carries a licence that allows you to screen it privately, that is, in a private home and nowhere else. You can invite whoever you want to see it with you without breaching the licence. But you cannot charge an admission fee or ask for a donation that may be construed as an admission fee.

  3. Vic Camilleri

    There are DVDs of the same movie from different distributors. I believe one has to obtain the licence from the distributor stated on the back of the particular DVD or from organization such as Village Roadshow PPL.
    My quiry is if a organization like say Umbrella, purchases the rights to distribute a particular movie title does it mean that all other movies of the same title from different distributors are now not able to be screened? Even if these movies were available before.

    1. jamessandry Post author

      Hi Vic,
      Nice to hear from you again.

      As I understand it, if several distributors own the same rights for a film you can choose whichever distributor you like. The DVD package is made for the domestic market. The jacket will feature the main production companies, which may have on-sold the rights to a company whose name isn’t on the package. For example, a film may have been made by Transmission, but the theatrical film rights will be held by Paramount. When the film goes to DVD, the theatrical rights may still be held by Paramount, but the non-theatrical rights will probably be with Roadshow, and they could also be with Umbrella or Potential. I hope that helps.

  4. Gary Sheppard

    Hi, I was hoping to start a Meet Up Film Noir group that would gather in a private home to watch these films (that are from my private collection) on a regular basis. No admission or any other type of fee will be charged. Do I have to contact distributors and obtain approval prior to advertising “this month’s film” on the group web page? Thank you.

    1. jamessandry Post author

      That is a tricky question and depends on weather it is a private or public screening. How will you be advertising it?
      (I don’t know much about meet up groups).

  5. vicsflicks

    The 1968 copyright act (although there might have been amendments) states you need permission if you screen “in public” . Screening in your home is not in public.
    Some say that if the screening is “organized” then you will need a licence BUT I can’t find anything that stated that in the 1968 copyright act. Maybe someone else can find it.

  6. Paul Fricker

    My church is planning to have some movie nights and do we need a licence to show any DVD’s. It will only be available to church members and their family and no fee will be charged to watch the movie. Is there an exemption or something in the Act that allows a church to hold such a night. without a license.?

    1. jamessandry Post author

      No Sorry, I don’t think there is an exemption for churches. That would still count as a public screening. I suggest you contact the distributors and you can always double check with them.

    2. vicsflicks

      Thanks Paul.
      The 1968 copyright act doesn’t make it clear when screening movies in nursing homes or retirement villages. These are places that are home to the residents.
      I dont believe that there should be copyright concerns when screening free movies for the frail elderly and those with a disability.


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