Educators are constantly seeking new sources of relevant material to illustrate doctrinal and practice topics. With the growing understanding of students’ different learning styles (including visual and auditory learners), as well as the expansion of high-speed network connections and large displays in the classroom, streaming video has begun gaining popularity as an educational tool. Films, television programs, and real-time and archived legislative and court sessions may provide examples (both positive and negative) to enhance pedagogy.
One increasingly common source for streaming content is a commercial video provider such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. Even where such providers do not offer educational or institutional services, educators may have personal accounts with the service to which they can connect from the classroom in order to show movies and television shows to students. The benefits are clear: little or no cost to either the school or the students, an ever-growing catalog of titles, and avoiding the delay of ordering and obtaining desired titles on DVD or VHS.
The ease and low cost of streaming services, however, do not necessarily translate into permissibility; faculty use of personal Netflix or similar streaming accounts in the classroom may not be legal. While certain provisions within U.S. copyright law (notably 17 U.S.C. § 110(1)) permit display of otherwise protected works in a not-for-profit classroom setting, the statutory exceptions, and the contracts underlying the service membership, may operate to prohibit this use of personal streaming accounts. Beyond the purely legal discussion, there are also ethical and institutional policy issues at stake.