Public Performance Video Licensing (Long Summary)

Jean Hewlett (
Thu, 3 Jan 2002 13:28:52 -0800 (PST)

This message is being cross posted to videolib, pubyac and publib. I
apologize for any duplication and for its length. I am responding to
several requests that I summarize responses for the list.

In December, I posted a message asking for information about people's
experiences with MPLC (Motion Picture Licensing Corporation.) MPLC
offers an umbrella license for public video performances that are not
covered by educational use guidelines. The licenses are available to
nonprofit groups such as libraries, schools, day care centers, and
clubs. Below is a summary of the responses I received.

It appears that there are two major organizations that do this. One is
MPLC and the other is Movie Licensing USA (a division of SWANK Motion
Information about both is available on their websites and

All of the messages I received emphasized that both of these are
legitimate, reputable businesses. Both of them set the cost according to
your library's number of branches and patron base. Several sources
mentioned that Movie Licensing USA may be a better choice the MPLC,
because they have more movies by major studios. Some persons recommended
phoning the companies and requesting current catalogs, because the
information on the web is a bit outdated.

Apparently both companies place restrictions on how you can advertise
their movies. My understanding is that you may advertise them only
in-house, not in outside publications. In other words, you can take out
an ad in your local newspaper saying that the library will present a
Thursday film series and the film on January 31 will be about about
China, but this ad may not say you are showing Crouching Tiger. You can
give specifics about the movies and when each will be shown on library
posters, in flyers that are avaiable in your library, in your Friends
newsletter, etc.

Below are some quotes from the messages I received and related postings.
Many thanks to everybody who responded--this was a tremendous help!

Jean Hewlett
North Bay Cooperative Reference System, Santa Rosa CA

I have worked with an MPLC licensing agreement at two libraries
and have had great experiences with the programming it allows.
We have done book/movie discussion groups, "premiere parties"
for new releases (like "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon") and lots of
supporting activities for kids and YA programs. It's also fun just to
show movies in the afternoon in the summer, sometimes -- gives
families a cool place to park for no money. Well worth the cash
outlay for the licensing agreement!

You can get a studio listing by calling MPLC. I am in the process of
purchasing an umbrella license for our library, but have chosen a
competitor of MPLC called Movie Licensing USA. Movie Licensing is a
newer company and offers licensing for most of the major motion picture
studios, of which MPLC has only a few. The URL for Movie Licensing USA
is You'll need to ask for a list of studios because the
ones on the website are not comprehensive (that is, they list the major
ones but not their subsidiaries on the site). I think Movie Licensing
is a little more expensive, but they cover more studios. They, too,
base their cost on registered patrons.

Our county library has a license and has no complaints about it.

The Wisconsin DPI has a FAQ page on Performance Rights for Copyrighted
Videorecordings which includes a number of questions to ask before
signing that type of license. It is at

I think SWANK films has a better deal because they deal with more
than MPLC. Price came out to be the same for me, though. For a public
library they base it on size of population and # of card holders. It's a
new branch of SWANK that they just started.

I have used MPLC licensing when I was the audiovisual librarian for
Co Public Library, a suburb of Atlanta Ga...I felt it was well worth
the money especially for children's programming. I do remember that
films were included in the license. I believe we paid for a license for
each site where the films would be shown and it may have been $200 per
site. The license has to be renewed each year and studios do get removed
from it. The one time I was disappointed in the license was when I was
setting up a film program of Josephine Baker's films. Kino handles a lot
of older and/or foreign films and they do not participate in the MPLC
program. If you have an extensive video/dvd collection and you use them
in children or adult programming frequently, it's a good program to
belong to.

The name of Swank's new branch is: Movie Licensing USA 201 S. Jefferson
Ave. St. Louis, MO 63103-2579 Toll-free number: 1-877-321-1300 or
e-mail at
The price they quoted me was about $900.00 per year. Currently in the
film consortium I'm in where we share the cost of 16mm films it's
costing me about $2000 per year to show 1 film per month (2 showings on
1 day). What with my 16mm projector breaking down all the time and the
lousy setup I have, I've been showing cassettes with no one complaining
yet of quality. When I was researching this I found MPLC to be very
limited compared with Movie Licensing.

We have been paying for this license [MPLC] for several years. It
covers a lot of different video companies (though not, unfortunately,
Disney), and basically is a CYA for showing videos in the library. It
is based on population served and number of branches in the system.
There is a
decal that you get for each branch to put on the door and it's all very
official looking. We've never had a challenge to us showing any videos
in the library, but we're small and poor, and the license is much
cheaper than a lawyer and a lawsuit in case the copyright police come

I got no response from them [MPLC] via email--use the 1-800# instead.

We are trying this contract this coming year. They will provide you
with a list of distributors that are allowed and a list of 16,000+ films
that are covered. Although many may not be represented, we feel we can
get enough coverage that it will be worth it.

We normally rent films from SWANK and would channel that money into the
cost of the licensing fee and show films from our collection. The only
thing you can't do is publicize the titles in the press releases. We do
enough in-house and Friends newsletters advertising that we're not
concerned about that restriction.

Yes it does seem ridiculous doesn't it, but the law concerning
copyright approaches the ridiculous sometimes. According to MPLC, you
advertise in-house by title (this includes house organs - newsletters,
etc.but not in general public media (newspapers, television, radio - I
wonder if a web page is public? - probably.) However, you can
advertise a film program at the library with specific dates and themes,
but just not mention the titles. It is this type of contractual
thinking that is weird - the MPAA just doesn't want movie theatres to
lose business - like they would compete with public libraries?.

This is actually the infamous "Disney " rule. And these guys aren't
kidding. Back when I was at Films Inc they went ballistic when some
place in the middle of nowhere listed the Disney animated film they were
showing in a flyer... None of the other studios care.

That is why you should deal with a nice companies like Kino, Milestone,
New Yorker etc....In fairness to both Modern Sound & MPLC they are
apparently acting under orders from the studios they contract from...

And THE advantage of dealing with the smaller distributors who
actually like our customers and want people coming to our films. As I
remember my contracts with Swank and Films Inc from several decades ago,
on-site publicity is allowed, but no outside ads or flyers were

The publicity prohibition goes back to the days before video and when
films could run in theaters for a year. ... the clause remains
because the studios and the big distributors (Swank primarily) either
don't want to think OR change things because they fear making a mistake.
In fact, Swank enforces this no-ad rule fairly strictly, which is just
bizarre to me.