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Free Streaming Nirvana: How to Access a Collection of the Greatest Movies Using Your Library Card

Educational distributor Kanopy is a free Netflix alternative for film nerds that includes over 400 Criterion titles.

Abbas Kiarostami’s “The Wind Will Carry Us” is available on Kanopy

Public and university libraries have long been one of the best ways to access a wide variety of films for free, as many carry DVDs and Blu-Rays of the best classic, world and nonfiction cinema ever made. Increasingly, one of the best-kept secrets is that people with a library card are now able to access the same deep reservoir of movies, including over 400 titles from the Criterion Collection, through the Kanopy streaming service and app.

For close to a decade, Kanopy has been one of the largest educational distributors, selling its library to schools or non-profit organizations (churches, research institutes, libraries) that show films for educational purposes. Traditionally, an organization would pay a higher price to own a DVD through an educational distributor — an important revenue stream for many issue or historical documentaries – but a few years ago, when Kanopy moved from Australia to San Fransisco, the company switched from selling DVDs to building a streaming service in which institutions paid based on what their members actually ended up watching. Kanopy grew to become a staple in over 3,000 universities, where cinephile-savvy college students have been taking advantage of the service for years.

Last month – when critic Matt Zoller Seitz started a fascinating Twitter conversation asking followers to share their tips for best way to cheaply access older, foreign and smaller films – New York Times critic Manohla Dargis pointed out that anyone with a Los Angeles public library card could also access the Kanopy’s streaming app. Then last week, Gothamist revealed the enormous network of New York City and Brooklyn Public Library card holders would also be able start accessing Kanopy from their computers and apps for their Apple iOS, Android and Roku devices.

420 Criterion Collection films available on Kanopy

Criterion Collection films available on Kanopy


There is a maximum amount of movies you can watch a month on Kanopy, although it differs for each library. For example, a New York Public Library account allows you to stream up to 10 videos a month, while the Brooklyn Public Library allows six. You have three days to watch a movie after you start streaming it.

To look up if your library grants you streaming access to Kanopy, click here.

To sign up for Kanopy, click here.

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