Key Takeaways

  • If you show movies at your senior center, the law requires that you have a public performance license. 

  • The good news is that the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC) has you covered! As a NISC member, your center is eligible for a discounted Umbrella License® from the MPLC.

  • Not a NISC Member? Join today.

It’s a rainy afternoon, and the wet weather means that your senior center needs an alternative activity.

What about a classic movie matinee? In addition to buttery popcorn and conversation, the event will feature a few silver screen favorites.

By late afternoon, it’s clear that the event has been a great success, and your senior center decides classic movie matinees should be a monthly activity.

How many times has this kind of scenario occurred at your senior center? Have you ever shown family movies and invited seniors to bring their families? What about cool summer movies that provide seniors with an opportunity to beat the heat? Does your activities coordinator occasionally schedule movie nights? How about a recreation room where patrons and guests can bring in a movie to watch on the big screen?

Protect your senior center

Situations like these are commonplace in senior centers across the country. When watching movies at your senior center, however, have you ever wondered how the FBI Warning at the beginning of the movie applies to you?

If you show movies or television shows in your senior center, you may be required to obtain a license.  Federal copyright laws require that a facility that rebroadcasts or publicly performs entertainment obtain a license. The licensing requirement applies whether you are showing DVDs, streaming content, and using a cable or satellite service or ordinary broadcast television. 

Because senior centers are considered public under the US Copyright Act, they are required to obtain a license to provide copyrighted entertainment.  

What licenses do senior centers need?

The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC), provides a blanket license called an Umbrella License®, which is appropriate for the vast majority of unscheduled, casual viewing.  If you have TVs in common areas and amenity spaces, or if you occasionally host in-house movie nights with your participants, this is the license for you. 

MPLC’s license is sold for one annual fee, does not require any reporting, and allows for unlimited exhibitions. The Umbrella License does not allow advertising or promotion—like you might do for a fundraiser or community event.   

Swank Motion Pictures and Criterion Pictures provide a different kind of license, called a title-by-title license (TbT). TbT licenses are sold as a single title for a single event and are appropriate for large scheduled events like a pop-up drive-in, with ticket sales and advertising as a component. 

Each of these licenses is relatively inexpensive when compared to fines, which can cost thousands of dollars.  If you have a commercial account with your provider (cable or satellite company), some of the content (particularly some news and sports programs) may already be licensed for public performances, and the fee may be included as part of the commercial package’s cost.  But the majority of film and television content that would be displayed on a senior center's screens would require an additional public performance license from a licensing organization like MPLC to fill such gaps in coverage. 

Where does the money go? 

It is a fair question to ask where these license fees go. A percentage of these fees goes back to producers, artists and creators. Copyright law is intended to support creativity and job-creation, and public performance licenses are one tool to fulfill those goals. 

Can I be sued for non-compliance? 

The short answer is, yes. Failure to obtain a license can result in costly litigation and fines.  And these copyright organizations will perform investigations unannounced. So please be sure to obtain the media licenses that you need to show movies and play music at your senior center.   

The good news is that the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC) has you covered! If you are a NISC affiliate member, your center is eligible for a discounted Umbrella License® from MPLC. For many years, NISC and MPLC have worked together to provide an affordable, easy way for senior centers to show movies while complying with federal copyright law. 

Apply for the discounted license today. (If your center is not yet a NISC affiliate member, you can join for free!)