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Copyright in the Classroom (and Beyond)

A quick intro guide to copyright law in regard to educational uses

Streaming Services

While, theoretically, streaming media should be beholden to the same exceptions in copyright law as physical media, many streaming services have terms of use contracts that may restrict classroom usage, regardless of the law. What you agree to in the contract overrules copyright law. 

For instance, see the following from Netflix's Terms of Use agreement: 

4.2 The Netflix service and any content accessed through our service are for your personal and non-commercial use only and may not be shared with individuals beyond your household. During your Netflix membership, we grant you a limited non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access the Netflix service and Netflix content through the service. Except for the foregoing, no right, title or interest shall be transferred to you. You agree not to use the service for public performances. 

While there are legal exceptions that would allow you to show a film if you owned the DVD, the terms of use for streaming that same film on Netflix prevents its use in the classroom. In fact, Netflix has a specific policy for showing documentaries in educational settings: 

Terms of Use specifically for "Educational Screenings of Documentaries": 
"...we will permit one-time educational screenings, "one-time screening" means that you can't hold screenings several times in one day or one week - but if, for example, you're an educator who wants to show the film once a semester over multiple semesters, that's okay. 
Educational screenings are permitted for any of the documentaries noted with this information, on the following terms: 
  • The documentary may only be accessed via the Netflix service, by a Netflix account holder. We don't sell DVDs, nor can we provide other ways for you to exhibit the film. 
  • The screenings must be non-profit and non-commercial. That means you can't charge admission, fundraise, solicit donations, or accept advertising or commercial sponsorships in connection with the screening. 
  • The documentary shall not be screened at any political campaign events and/or electoral campaigning events. 
  • Please don't use Netflix's logos in any promotion for the screening, or do anything else that indicates the screening is "official" or endorsed by Netflix. 

Each streaming service may have different usage policies, so be sure to read through the terms of use if you are planning to use. 

RIT Libraries does subscribe to streaming services that are licensed for classroom used. For more information on this service and the place a request, visit:


YouTube videos can generally be shown or streamed in a class, however one thing to be cognizant of is whether the video you are showing was legally uploaded. For instance, a clip from a film uploaded by a random user is most likely infringing on copyright, whereas a clip from a film uploaded by the official studio account is legally clear. 


This is not legal advice. RIT Libraries can provide information and research assistance on the topics of copyright and fair use. Questions about legal advice and legal recommendations should be directed to RIT’s Office of Legal Affairs. For RIT's definitive institutional policy regarding copyright, visit the RIT University Copyright Policy.

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Use of RIT resources is reserved for current RIT students, faculty and staff for academic and teaching purposes only.
Please contact your librarian with any questions.

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