Can You Show Netflix in Class? Copyright for Teachers Made Simple

Technology Tips

Can You Show Netflix in Class? Copyright for Teachers Made Simple

By Eva Harvell     Oct 24, 2018

Can You Show Netflix in Class? Copyright for Teachers Made Simple

Can I show a video from Netflix in my classroom? Can I make 25 copies from my favorite math workbook? I just need three more copies of our book, can I make those? As educators, we use a variety of resources in our classroom to enhance a lesson. Knowing when our decision to use something falls under fair use and when it is a copyright violation can get tricky, but it doesn’t have to.

Before we dive too deep, let’s get a basic understanding of copyright and fair use.

What is Copyright?

According to, copyright is “a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” Tangible media that can be protected through a copyright include songs, movies, books and artwork. Since copyrighted works are protected, they often require special permission or licensing for use with groups, including classrooms.

What is Fair Use?

Fair use permits the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Teaching is an activity that qualifies as fair use. When determining fair use, four factors should be considered,

  1. the purpose and character of the use;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion use in relation to the whole work; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market.

So where does that Netflix documentary, the Disney movie, those workbook copies and my only copy of “Harry Potter” fall with fair use? Here’s where things can get a bit tricky.

Printed materials, like books and articles, do fall under fair use in some cases—but this can be flexible. There is no hard-and-fast rule, although some districts may set specific guidelines of their own. For example, some might let you make multiple copies of an article or story less than 2,500 words. But this isn’t law—just an interpretation. (As a side note, consumables or workbooks do not fall under fair use. Making copies from a single workbook is not covered by fair use.)

Making worksheet copies is easy, but it’s not the only option. There are several resources out there to ensure learning and understanding without a worksheet. If you have a document camera or interactive board, put them to use! These two devices allow students to see the worksheet or text, but the interaction is centered on the board or the classroom discussion, instead of the individual student. You could also amp up the DOK (depth of knowledge). For example, instead of completing a worksheet on graphs, have students collect data, analyze the results and create their own graphs. Students can also create a graphic organizer to compare and contrast two books.

G-Suite tools like Drawing, Slides and Sites are great resources students can use to showcase their knowledge. And use digital tools to their full potential: Students can do so much more with them than just fill out a worksheet.

Check out books, including “Ditch the Textbook” by Matt Miller, the “Hacking Learning” series and “Teach Like a Pirate,” by Dave Burgess for more ways you can stop making copies of worksheets and make learning interactive.

When it comes to printed materials, like books and magazines, you may want to dive into DonorsChoose, which connects classroom projects with donors. Company partners like Chevron, Google and Sonic along with individual donors help support teacher projects all over the United States. As a classroom teacher, one of my first DonorsChoose projects was for a class set of “Magic Tree House” books.

Can You Show That Video?

The right to show video in the classroom doesn’t rely on fair use. In fact, there is a separate part of copyright law that lets teachers show video in class. However, consider these four points. You can show video:

  1. During face-to-face teaching
  2. When viewed in a classroom or other place of instruction
  3. With a lawfully made copy
  4. As a regular part of instruction and directly related to content being taught

If your district pays for a subscription to a multimedia resource like Learn360 or Discovery Education, then that should be your first stop for finding videos to use.

So what about Netflix? At first glance it seems like it would be OK, but a teacher wanting to show a Netflix movie would have to log into Netflix using a personal account. The user agreement the individual agreed to when he or she created the Netflix account prohibits showing movies in a public venue, which may be a contract violation. (However, Netflix does permit the showing of some documentaries in class.)

Don’t let that discourage you. Ask your media specialist about whether or not your school or district has public performance rights to show videos outside of class and in public settings for non-teaching reasons (like the last day of school). If not, you want to ask your media specialist to look into gaining those rights. Most districts go through Movie Licensing USA, a company that provides licensing for K-12 schools for a variety of studios, including Walt Disney Pictures, Sony Pictures and DreamWorks Animation. You can pay a one-time license for a movie or an annual fee that covers you throughout the year.

Students are quick to use copy/paste and hit share/retweet. We have to help them understand copyright affects their daily lives inside and outside the classroom. Teaching copyright doesn’t have to be done during a set-aside time. These lessons can go right along with classroom research, creation and even discussions at the lunch table.

My go-to resource for all things digital citizenship is Common Sense Media and their K-12 Digital Citizenship curriculum. You can read more about Common Sense Media below. Another good resource for Copyright ideas for the classroom is Media Education Lab. In their Copyright section, you can gain access to visuals and lesson plans for secondary students.

As we encourage students to be creators of content, rather than consumers, they need to understand Creative Commons. Creative Commons, or CC, provides copyright licensing for those who want to share and encourage reuse. As students create, they can apply one of the six Creative Commons licenses to their work.

This is not limited to students. Teachers can also use Creative Commons on resources they make. Next time you are browsing Teachers Pay Teachers, look for the CC label.

So, where can you go to get a better understanding of what does and does not fall under fair use? Here are some great resources you will want to bookmark for the next time you have a fair use question.

Copyright & Fair Use Resources
This is the U.S. Copyright Office website. You can learn just about anything you want to know about the copyright law and its history. Be sure to check out the Education section.

UMUC Library
The University of Maryland, University College Library discusses copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons on the Get Help section of their website.

Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines for Teachers
This PDF resource was created by Hall Davidson. It is a great reference for teachers when it comes to fair use and the variety of mediums we use in the classroom. The downloads section of his website has a great selection of copyright resources.

Copyright and Intellectual Property
Kathy Schrock’s website is always a great resource for educators. She has a section all about copyright and intellectual property with resources for classroom use and educator learning.

Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media offers a free, K-12 digital citizenship curriculum. Creative Credit/Copyright is one of the eight topics the lessons focus on. These lessons are a great way to help students become positive, productive digital citizens.

Media Education Lab
This is a good resource for media literacy education. Teachers can find a variety of teacher resources focus on media literacy, including copyright, as well as professional development opportunities.

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