If you are planning to show a film for your RSO you will need to purchase the rights for a public screening through a distributor. The only situation where you will not need to purchase the rights to screen are outlined below:
If you are showing the film in a face to face teaching activity, it is fair use to do so and you do not need the copyright owner's permission to do so under Section 110 of the Copyright Act. You cannot show a movie for entertainment without getting a license/permission even if you are not charging admission.
Under Section 110, all of the following have to be satisfied in order to avoid needing permission of the copyright holder:
- The movie must be shown by an instructor or students;
- The instructor and students must be in the same place (i.e., the instructor has to be present in the room);
- The event must be a teaching activity and not recreation or entertainment;
- The event must be put on by a nonprofit educational institution (i.e. the University);
- The event must take place in a classroom or other area used as a classroom for systematic instructional activity (i.e., not a dorm room); and
- The copy of the movie being shown must have been lawfully made (no bootleg copies).