It’s Not Netflix: Licensing and Streaming Films via the Library

The recent introduction of a film studies minor to Baruch’s Weissman School of the Arts and Sciences had particular implications for the librarians at Baruch. Demand for viewing shot up, and the commuter-heavy student body couldn’t always come to the library and watch the film in the dedicated viewing room. As Newman librarian Amanda Timolat said, “The model of having one DVD to go look at in the viewing room was no longer feasible.” How, then, could the library support its students?

When a professor suggested streaming, Timolat embarked on what has turned out to be quite an impressive project. Simply reformatting the DVDs and posting them online was not an option: as UCLA has recently discovered, such actions might quickly lead to legal action from the distributor.¬†Timolat therefore set out with a question: “Can I purchase the streaming rights as opposed to public performance rights?”

She found two solutions, the easiest being Swank, a company which does all the legwork in providing streaming movies online. In addition to getting the rights, Swank also provides technology and tech support, which makes the whole process fairly painless. Of course, Swank doesn’t offer every movie the professor might assign.

… In which case, Timolat would have to find a way to purchase the streaming rights herself, by contacting vendors and production companies. IMDB was an excellent source for this kind of information, and Timolat began contacting many “small but busy production companies” to ask them about purchasing the rights to movies. Naturally, they were a bit suspicious to begin with. However, things improved when they realized she was willing to purchase rights and pay them fairly for it: “For the most part, once people realized I wasn’t talent looking for a job, they were a lot easier to work with.”

The pricing, Timolat said, was often disproportionate, given the relative newness of streaming technology. It could range from $200 for rights to stream a film in perpetuity, to $400 for just a semester. Companies often ask how much others have charged: “I try to lowball them a bit, but I’m honest with them and give them a range.” One more note on pricing: the funding for this service comes from student fees, which means that students have elected to support this service.

The titles are linked through the e-reserve system, not the CUNY+ catalog. Students need to log in to see their available titles. There are currently 25 films supporting ten courses, but the program has featured many others as well. Next on the list, says Timolat, is increasing faculty awareness of this impressive new service.

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