Netflix in the Classroom


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I was a late Netflix adopter, which is probably a surprise to many of my readers. Renting movies through Blockbuster or borrowing them from the library became a non-thinking habit. Late charges, having to actually go to a place to search for and pick up the movies, and high rental rates were just a few of the hardships I endured. Sure, I had heard of Netflix and many of my friends sang praises of their services. But I never took the time to really research and understand what Netflix was or how it worked until . . . I bought my first Internet-enabled HD television. Then, my movie-accessing and -viewing world was completely and irreversible transformed.

Once I realized I could not only have movies delivered to my home free of charge, but could also stream HD content on demand to my television for a relatively inexpensive monthly subscription, I was hooked. I will warn you that a Netflix subscription will require other expenditures–high-speed Internet, an HD television or computer, and a Blu-ray player to watch Blu-ray discs sent through the mail. But if you already have these devices and features, then Netflix is just a click away.

If you need television recommendations, I’ve been extremely happy with the Vizio televisions with Vizio Internet Apps as well as their Internet-enabled Blu-ray disc players. Sony also makes a good network Blu-ray disc player, but you’ll need to also purchase a wireless card if you want to connect to your network this way. (The Vizio Blu-ray disc player already has an integrated WI-fi built in.)

But you don’t even need a television to watch Netflix movies and other media. You can watch Netflix content on any computer, which makes it a perfect match for a classroom with a computer and projector. With a Netflix account ($7.99 a month for streamed media only, no CDs) you could select from a vast array of content to enrich your classroom.

Here’s an excellent resource that lists various types of content offered through Netflix that could be used in the classroom: Stream Your Education Online at Netflix.

Great ExpectationsThink about the many ways you might use multimedia: a video to serve as a pre-reading activity in an English class, a documentary film that brings history alive and can provide lively conversations about film genres, an interactive tour of the Louvre to enrich art history, a PBS series on U.S. government, a foreign film to enrich a foreign language class . . . the list is endless.

How can a school provide Netflix content to its classrooms? A school could purchase a Netflix account which could stream to 6 different devices (6 teachers’ classrooms). They would need to purchase additional licenses, for additional teachers. But at $7.99 a month and unlimited streaming of content, this could be an excellent way to augment a teacher’s digital library.

Netflix in the classroom. Its time has come.

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8 thoughts on “Netflix in the Classroom

  1. Netflix is intended for the private personal viewing of its end user/family. It is a violation of both Netflix’s terms of service as well as the United States Copyright Law. Is there a commercial/enterprise level solution for this of which I am unaware?

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    • I’m talking about streaming videos in the classroom, using a Netflix account. As long as a teacher is not charging for the movie and it is being show face-to-face by the teacher or substitute, I don’t think any copyright laws are being violated. It’s a great way to obtain many movies useful for classroom use. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. I’m not sure you are correct on this one, Mike. It’s my understanding that a teacher can show entire videos to a classroom, as long as it is a face-to-face situation. There is a classroom exemption to the copyright law that states a performance can be viewed in a classroom, as long as it adheres to certain requirements: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode17/usc_sec_17_00000110—-000-.html

    Let me know what you think!

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    • Barbara,

      With respect, that section is not an unconditional grant of permission. Note the language near the end of that first section:
      “…unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made.”

      What determines whether a copy is “lawfully made”? One element is the license under which it is accessed. The Netflix Streaming software terms of use, found here, include the limitation that:

      “The Software is only for your own personal, non-commercial use and not for use in the operation of a business or service bureau, for profit or for the benefit or any other person or entity.”

      Regardless of whether a school is not-for-profit, publicly displaying Netflix Streaming content in a classroom, as part of a course, would appear to go beyond the idea of “personal” use and would likely be deemed “for the benefit of [another] person or entity,” namely the school and/or the students.

      It goes on to state in a later section,

      “Apart from your right to view the third-party content, this License Agreement does not grant you the right to copy, distribute, prepare derivative works, publicly display, or make other use of such content.”

      Keep in mind that Netflix is not itself the copyright holder; it receives a license from the owners of the copyrighted works to store and stream the content via a sublicense to its users, who themselves are only permitted to exercise that sublicense.

      If the teacher is utilizing the service in violation of a contract, it could well be considered “by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made,” and therefore outside of the exception in the copyright law provision you cite.

      I’m preparing an article on this question. I would appreciate your thoughts. {Jonathan}

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  3. Barbara — I am researching this issue extensively and found your comments during my search. I am in the process of writing a college policy for the use of Netflix in our classrooms. Based on the research I have done and the experiences we have had with Netflix, I believe profjonathan is correct. There are copyright issues with the use of personal Netflix subscriptions in classrooms. However, the biggest problem seems to be the contract law involved with a personal Netflix contract. Our IT director checked with Netflix on obtaining some kind of site license to stream videos. He was told no. Netflix says you can use up to six devices for your subscription but they mean six devices in YOUR HOME.

    I see some institutions advising faculty and/or librarians to get personal subscriptions and use them in class and/or library settings. That means the faculty member has to agree that the subscription is for personal use, knowing full well that they intend to use it in class. Netflix told our IT director that their contracts with their suppliers (producers of movies) precludes them allowing openly this kind of use.

    Netflix has said publically that they are not prosecuting libraries “at this time.” However, they may start if their contractual suppliers/partners decide enough is enough. This practice seems to be wide-spread and very public. Just because nobody has sued anyone yet doesn’t make the practice legal. Eventually some accountant/lawyer somewhere could decide there’s too much activity from which movie producers aren’t profiting and they will sue.

    I will try to keep posted on your research, profjonathan. However, I don’t think this is an issue that can or should be adjudicated by public opinion or by vote of the people. Obviously, we all want something for nothing or at as cheaply as possible but that may not be right. I want to advise my faculty as correctly as possible based on the best information I can get.

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