Using Netflix And Legal Movie Streaming In The Classroom

NetflixI recently purchased the Netflix service for use in my home via computer streaming and my Xbox 360.   One of the real “world shakers” of television programming is rapidly approaching our present timeline…that of the self-programmed television lineup.   For many, it’s virtually here already…  think hulu.com and all of the other network affiliates that allow the viewer some type of free access to their video libraries.    These types of services will only become more user-friendly, widely available, and desired by consumers… all but putting a stop to the “Friday night lineup” as people will be able to have their “on demand” lineup all of the time.

Netflix attempts to answer this “on demand” demand  by offering near-DVD quality streaming and near-HD quality streaming with a number of their holdings (currently over 12,000!).  They offer a whole host of instant-access, streamed movies to computers, Xbox 360s, and Roku types of “television appliances”.  

What makes this interesting, educationally-speaking,is a combination of the multi-computer license, large number of educationally based titles in their library, and the standing educational copyright law for in-class usage of legal copies of media.    As it stands, according to Section 110 of the Copyright Actregarding the usage of VHS tapes, DVDs, Laser Discs, etc., as long as the materials to be shown in class are acquired legitimately and “dedicated to face-to-face instruction” -not simply for a reward showing, educational institutions and teachers may elect to show these types of media, in their entirety, within the classroom environment.  I see no reason as to why this would not apply to the legal “rental” and streaming of a Netflix title provided a legitimate and instructor owned account was used for the access (open the can of worms for discussion here!).

As Netflix limits the amount of computers that an account may be streamed to eight (per year) and if you decide to try this, I would suggest limiting your account usage to a main computer in the classroom or better yet, one of your laptops (which would be better as it’s your Netflix account and your laptop).

What initially sparked my interest in this idea was the very large and USEFUL holdings of jazz related DVD titles that I found  in the Netflix streamable format while searching their holdings.  As I teach Jazz History at the college and am always looking for ways to include various forms of media into the class, the combination of Netflix and streaming some of their educational related titles in the classroom seems like a natural and legal match.

Here is a sampling of Netflix’s streamable Jazz holdings:

  • The Ken Burns JAZZ DVD Series
  • Jazz Legends: Billy Cobham
  • Jazz Legends: Chuck Mangione
  • Jazz Legends: Arturo Sandoval
  • Jazz Legends: Roy Ayers
  • Jazz Legends: Mike Mainieri
  • Jazz Legends: Golden Age of Jazz Part I
  • Jazz Legends Live! Seires 1-14
  • Sarah Vaughn & Other Jazz Divas
  • Newport Jazz Festival 1962
  • Jazz on a Summer’s Day (NJF 1960)
  • Jazz Giants of the 20th Century
  • Miles Davis: Cool Jazz Sound
  • Louis Armstrong: King of Jazz
  • And more!

While there are many other popular music genre histories listed and available (rock, country, etc,) there are also classical chronicles like that of of Anna Magdalena Bach, musicals, and even documentaries on the making of Opera.  You may browse their seletions here. 

What a truly wonderful classroom resource (albeit not intentionally) for the price of $7.99 per month for unlimited streaming and also regular DVD mailers (not to mention that you likely bought your subscription for home use in the first place!).   I think this usage of Netflix for enhanced classroom learning is certainly “fringe” but one with great educational “benefits” as well. 

While, I’m not completely sure of the copyright implications of this process as I’m not a copyright lawyer, it seems well within the sphere of legal usage as Netflix and others seem to treat the streaming licenses no different than a tangible rental other than the DRM limitations they place on the stream.   I’m certainly not an advocate of copyright violation, but this seems to fall well within the realm of what is listed in the current copyright laws and the fair-use and educationally related policies.    I’d welcome a professional opinion on this or at least an educated one.  

Your thoughts and comments welcome!

         Dr. Joseph M. Pisano

Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D. is the creator of many education websites, a lecturer, clinician, trumpeter, and conductor. He is currently the Associate Chair of Music and Director of Bands in the Calderwood School of Arts at Grove City College in PA. He been named a TI:ME Teacher of the Year, received the JEN Jazz Educator Award and the PA Citation of Excellence. He is a past Vice President of the Technology Institute for Music Educators and the current Vice-President of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association. He also writes for DCI Magazine, Teaching Music Magazine, and is the Educational Editor for In-Tune Monthly Magazine; he has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications. Find out more at his website jpisano.com.
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