The Copyright Act protects audiovisual works such as films, videos, and DVDs, and controls most showings of movies. Among the rights of a copyright holder is the right to authorize public showing ("performance") of copyrighted films, subject to certain narrow exceptions, one of which is a showing in conjunction with face-to-face teaching activities.
Special Note: Showing a movie and simply inviting a faculty member to comment does not satisfy the copyright guidelines. In order to satisfy the copyright requirements, the faculty member must be lecturing as part of a course and the movie must be shown as part of the face-to-face classroom activities of the course.
If a video or DVD is labeled "For Home Use Only," the showing must be licensed, be otherwise permissible under the face-to-face teaching exception, or be in the public domain (but this is hard to determine and even very old films can still be protected by copyright). Unless a license is acquired, most student organization showings of films, videos, or DVDs in a public area (like a classroom, theater, or common area of a residence hall or other university housing) for entertainment, whether a fee is charged or not, will be an infringement of copyright. Such infringement can result in substantial damages, ranging from $500 to $20,000 for an inadvertent infringement, up to far greater financial damages and jail time for willful infringement.
If a performance license is needed, you can either rent the film directly from a distributor authorized to grant such licenses, show a film covered by the site license that the University has with a particular distributor, or contact the producer directly. The University's libraries can assist you in seeking permission from producers directly. Student organizations showing films for entertainment purposes are responsible for paying royalties.
For more information and resources on obtaining performance licenses, see Copyright Guidelines for Showing Movies and Other Audiovisual Works (PDF document).