Skip to main content

Licensing your community cinema

Before you can start showing films, you need to get the right licences in place. Follow our guide to help you get them set up.

Getting your licences is more straightforward than it might sound, so don’t worry – you could be up and running in no time.

First of all, here are the two licences your community cinema will almost certainly need:

  1. The most appropriate premises licence for your venue that allows you to screen films (to comply with the Licensing Act 2003)
  2. A screening licence to show your film (to comply with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988)

Getting these in place takes less time and effort than you might think, so don’t be intimidated.

Don’t forget, it’s really important to ensure that both your venue and your film are licensed, as it’s against the law to screen films without the right licences (anyone who does so runs the risk of a hefty fine or even a prison sentence). So make sure you have everything in place!

1. How to get a premises licence for your venue

Every single venue that shows films needs a premises licence, whether it’s a church hall, community centre or even a projection onto the side of a building. However, there are exceptions depending on the type of venue you are and where in the UK you are based.

If your venue changes each time you show a film, you’ll need to buy the appropriate licence for each new venue you decide to use.

Regular cinema screenings in an established venue (such as a pub, village hall or outdoor recreation area)

So, which licence is best for your venue?

Premises Licence

Where to apply for the licence

Licensing your venue to show films depends on where you live, as different regions have different requirements. You may also be exempt if you are a not-for-profit community venue. Find out more at GOV.UK for:

England or Wales

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Exemption for not-for-profit community venues in England and Wales

As a result of deregulatory changes that have amended the Licensing Act 2003 for England and Wales, from April 2015, a licence is no longer required for ‘not-for-profit’ film screenings which are held in community premises between 08.00 and 23.00 on any day provided that the audience does not exceed 500 and (a) you get permission for your screening from the person who is responsible for the premises; and (b) you ensure that each screening abides by the age classification rating for the film you are showing.

One of the conditions of the exemption is that the film entertainment is not being provided with a view to a profit. An entry charge does not necessarily make the film entertainment licensable; it is whether the organiser intends to make a profit (that includes raising money for charity). A charge for tickets or contributions from your audience which are solely to cover the costs of the film screening is consistent with ‘not being provided with a view to profit’. Legitimate costs include overheads directly relevant to providing the film, including premises hire, film licence/hire costs, equipment etc. The ‘not with a view to profit’ condition applies solely to the activity of exhibiting the film under this exemption. You are allowed to make a profit for any other activities which are distinct from film admission, such as the provision of refreshments, film talks, or social events.

If your regular film screenings do not meet the conditions of the exemption, then the community venue needs to have a premises licence that permits the screening of film, or alternatively for a one-off screening at a new venue, a Temporary Event Notice (TEN) (if your venue is in England or Wales) or an Occasional Licence (if your venue is in Northern Ireland or Scotland). In other circumstances, such as a screening in a public house or other business premises, a premises licence is needed to permit the showing of a film. If you plan to use the same venue for every screening, that might make things easier as you may only need to apply once for your venue licence. Just make sure it includes permission to screen films.

How much will the licence cost

Community premises in England and Wales are exempt from a fee for their premises licence if providing entertainment and not alcohol. Otherwise it depends on the rateable value of the venue which can vary from about £100 up to about £1,900 per annum.

Top tip

This is the licence that community cinemas most commonly need.

One-off screening events (such as a film festival, or a screening in a special one-off location)

So, which licence is best for your venue?

Temporary Events Notice (TEN) if your venue is in England or Wales or an Occasional Licence if your venue is in Northern Ireland or Scotland – one for each screening

Where to apply for the licence

England or Wales

Northern Ireland

Scotland

How much will the licence cost

• £21 each for a TEN in England or Wales

• £10 each for an Occasional Licence in Scotland

• The cost of an Occasional Licence in Northern Ireland is dependent on the size of your audience

Top tip

It might be a good idea to get one of these for your test screening, before you commit to buying an annual Premises Licence or Club Premises Certificate. A TEN or Occasional Licence allows you to sell alcohol, as well as hot food after 11am. Also, bear in mind that you can only apply for a limited number of these each year.

Plus, don’t forget to check whether the venue you want to use already has a Premises Licence allowing it to screen films – you might not even need to apply for a new one. Get in touch with your local council to check.

2. How to get licences for your films

Most commonly, you pay for your licence after you’ve screened the film. You should first identify which kind of venue you will have the screening in.

  • If you are a cinema ‘theatre’ – a venue whose main business is showing films to the public, you will need a Theatrical licence.
  • If you are another kind of venue - such as a village, town or community hall - which shows films occasionally, you will need a Non-Theatrical licence.

For the purposes of this article, we will only detail Non-Theatrical licences for non-cinema venues - which can be commercial or non-commercial. If you are a film society or club organising screenings in a cinema, you may want to ask the cinema to obtain the screening licence on your behalf.

As with booking your film, there are three main routes you could go down to arrange your film licence quickly and easily:

Option A – Arrange your licence when booking your film through Cinema for All, the ICO or Moviola booking services which all have online catalogues of the films they represent

A good place to begin is by using the Cinema for All Booking Scheme – a distribution scheme created especially for community cinemas and film societies. It’s available to Cinema for All Members and Associates and offers over 800 films at a flat rate of £85 each, with no additional charges or fees (unless they’re part of the MPLC collection, which might cost more as the price of your licence depends on your box office takings). It’s one of the cheapest and easiest ways to book both commercial and non-commercial licences.

The Independent Cinema Office (ICO) also books films and licences for its members through its programming and booking service.

Moviola is a touring cinema service operating in the South West of England, that also offers a UK wide booking service.

Option B – Pay for your film licence through a local touring cinema network

There are lots of touring cinemas which travel around the UK working with local community cinemas at all levels. You can get in touch with your nearest touring cinema for help with booking and licensing your films; with plenty of hands-on experience, their support can really help make the process simple.

Option C – Pay for your film licence directly with the distributor

Finally, you can arrange your licences with the distributor of the film you would like to screen. The BFI, Filmbank and MPLC are the best starting points, as they each have a huge catalogue of titles to choose from. The BFI collection is vast and many of the titles are not listed on the website so its always worth contacting their bookings staff with a specific query or a request for programming advice.

You might need to pay a refundable deposit of around £150 when you set up a new account with each distributor.

There are lots of other distributors out there too, so take a look at our full list of distributors to find more.

3. Which film licence will you need?

So, once you’ve decided which distributor you’re going to start using, you need to select which licence you need to buy. There are three main types available – here’s an overview of each one:

A. Commercial licence

You’ll need this licence if….

You’re going to sell tickets to your screening, either in advance and/or on the door and want to include advertising or have any sponsorship.

With this licence, you can…

  • Screen films to the general public, as well as to your members if you have a membership scheme
  • Charge for tickets in advance or on the door
  • Advertise your screening publically
  • Screen adverts or secure sponsorship for your screening

What are the benefits of this type of licence?

A commercial licence enables you to reach new audiences, build your membership, increase admissions and Box Office takings, potentially bring in more funds and therefore improve your financial sustainability.

And what are the disadvantages of this type of licence?

You’ll have an extra piece of admin to do after each screening, as you’ll usually need to submit your Box Office Return within seven days of your screening, along with your licence fee (though booking through the Cinema for All Booking Scheme means you wouldn’t have to do this). This is a record of how many people attended your screening and how much money you took in ticket sales.

Where can I get this licence?

You can pay for this licence when you order your film, whether that’s through a booking service (via a cinema organisation or a touring cinema) or directly from the distributor.

If you’re booking directly through MPLC, it’s called a commercial ‘Single Title MPLC Movie Licence’. Through Filmbank it’s called a commercial ‘Single Title Screening Licence (STSL)’. Most distributors will refer to this licence as a commercial single licence title.

How long does it last?

The licence lasts for one individual screening of the film, but you can pay for extra licences if you plan to screen it more than once.

How much does it cost?

Either a percentage of your total ticket sales money (usually 35%), or a minimum guaranteed amount (if you’re going to screen the film just once this is usually between £75-£120 + VAT, depending on where you get the licence from), whichever is the bigger amount. Don’t forget, booking through the Cinema for All Booking Scheme means you’ll just pay a flat rate of £85 for your licence and film itself.

When can the costs be paid?

You may need to pay for this license after your screening, as the exact cost might depend on how many people are in your audience if the distributor takes a proportion of the ticket sales.

B. Non-commercial licence

You’ll need this licence if….

You’re only going to show films to people who are members of your cinema club who’ve paid an annual membership fee, and who won’t be buying individual tickets.

With this licence, you can…

  • Only screen films to people who haven’t been charged to come in (you can’t charge for tickets in advance or on the door)
  • Only advertise your screening to your members (you can’t advertise it publically)

What are the benefits of this type of licence?

If you’re charging an annual membership fee, you might find a non commercial licence easier as it doesn’t require you to submit a Box Office Return for ticket sales after the screening. You can also use membership fees to cover the costs of licences in advance.

And what are the disadvantages of this type of licence?

You can only advertise in your venue itself, or directly to your members, which means you’re limited in how much promotion you can do. You wouldn’t be able to promote your screening on social media, for example. You cannot charge for tickets to your screening, either in advance or on the door and will not be able to include advertising or obtain any sponsorship.

Where can I get this licence?

You can pay for this licence when you order your film, whether that’s through a booking service (via a cinema organisation or a touring cinema) or directly from the distributor.

If you’re booking directly through MPLC, it’s called a non-commercial ‘Single Title MPLC Movie Licence’. Through Filmbank it’s called a non-commercial ‘Single Title Screening Licence (STSL)’. Most distributors will refer to this licence as a non-commercial or non-theatrical single licence title.

How long does it last?

The licence lasts for one individual screening of the film, but you can pay for extra licences if you plan to screen it more than once.

How much does it cost?

From around £75 + VAT per film, depending on the size of your audience and how many times you plan to screen the film.

When can the costs be paid?

You can pay when you order your film from the distributor.

4. More questions about licensing

What if the film I want to show isn’t available at Filmbank or MPLC?

Some films are not available to large distributors, so you’ll need to find out who the copyright owner is (usually the production company – such as Fox or Disney), and apply for permission to show the film. Use FindAnyFilm.com to find who owns the rights to the film you want to show, then use our full list of distributors to get in touch with them directly.

Can I get any discounts on buying a film licence?

Yes – if you’re a member of Cinema for All or the ICO, you can get an introductory discount from MPLC.

Do I definitely need a film licence?

There are some cases where you might not need a licence to screen a film. These include, but are not limited to, films shown:

  • By formal educational organisations, such as schools or universities, for the sole purpose of education or training
  • To fellow servicemen and women in the armed forces while based abroad

For more information on exemption from the 2003 Licensing Act, take a look at the government’s legislation website or contact us for help.

5. Other licences you might need

PRS licence for music

Your venue will also need to have a PRS (Performing Right Society) licence. The PRS looks after paying royalties back to recording artists, and this licence covers all the music that features in the soundtracks of the films you show. It’s likely that your venue might already have a PRS licence, so check with whoever manages it.

There’s a range of tariffs for PRS licences, and the one relevant to community cinemas is the ‘General Purpose’ tariff. You’ll need to pay a small fee for each screening (around £7.50 if you have less than 100 members in the audience), and you can pay this in advance for the year or in instalments.

Temporary Event Notice (TEN) or Occasional Licence for the sale of alcohol

Selling alcoholic drinks at your screenings can be a good way to increase your takings for the night to help cover costs. If your venue doesn’t already have a licensed permanent bar, you can apply online for a Temporary Event Notice (TEN) if your venue is in England or Wales or an Occasional Licence if you're in Northern Ireland or Scotland. There is a limit to how many you can have a year, although there are some reasons why you may be allowed more – for example, if you hold a personal licence to sell alcohol.

Of course, you’ll also need to be sure that you’re only selling alcohol to those over 18.

  • All information has been checked and approved in affiliation with Cinema for All.

    Last updated 16 April 2015.