Showing Films in Class: Copyright and Licensing

Recently, one of our students asked whether we could provide resources on the current legal rules for watching films in the classroom. Since our platform features a number of film suggestions and students easily engage with audio-visual material, we took this opportunity to navigate the muddy waters of screenings in schools in Germany.

There are uncontroversial cases of audio-visual content which teachers can show for educational purposes (no public advertising, no entrance fees) without issue according to both IPAU e.V., which represents the interests of the film industry, and German education authorities:

  • Using a DVD or stream with a special screening license (as available in Landesbildstellen and Medienzentren)
  • Working with selected scenes of up to 15% of any legal DVD or stream (cf. § 60a UrhG)
  • Showing expressly educational materials by public broadcasters (cf. § 47 UrhG)
  • Streaming documentaries provided with a special education license (cf. Netflix’s policy)
  • Using films and clips with a Creative Commons license
  • Attending a cinema screening
  • Holding a written permission of the copyright holder allowing a screening

Interest groups such as IPAU e.V. will often attempt to convince teachers that screening any off-the-shelf DVD or stream without a special licence is not permitted in classrooms at all. This is not entirely true, however, since German copyright law is generally understood to provide the option for non-public screenings (nicht-öffentlich). This adds the following option in addition to the above:

  • Using any legal DVD or stream as long as you are showing it to a particular group that regularly studies together (i.e. Klassen- or Kursverband in accordance with § 15 UrhG)

Any screening to students from more than one group (that regularly studies together) is not considered nicht-öffentlich any more and thus requires one of the more restrictive but uncontroversial options outlined above.

This outline is written up to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication, but it is not legally binding advice since we are not lawyers. Make sure you check the guidance provided by your education authority before you stream a video or show a film in your classroom.

Jonatan and Simon