It’s fine to pop in a dvd to entertain your family or a few friends with a movie at your home. Those are private performances of the movie.
In contrast, a business, private club, or social organization offering movie screenings is a public performance of the movie. Public performance is one of the exclusive rights controlled by the copyright owner. Hence, if the film is still protected by copyright, you need permission to screen it in public. It doesn’t matter whether the screening organization is a non-profit or whether or not admission is charged.
What’s a Public Performance?
It’s difficult to identify the exact point at which a private performance crosses the line and becomes a public performance. As a general guideline, if you make the screening available at a place open to the public or to a substantial number of people beyond a family or a group of friends, that can qualify as a public performance. Even a performance taking place in a semi-public place such as a private golf club or a condominium association club house have been deemed to be public performances.
How to Obtain a License to Screen a Movie
The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation offers a blanket license for the non-commercial exhibition of motion pictures. It issues licenses to numerous entities including corporations, government agencies and non-profit organizations.