Kanopy is a free streaming service you get with your library card

Kanopy features a large collection of award-winning films and documentaries that are free to members of subscribing libraries

You might not have heard of Kanopy, the on-demand streaming platform if you’re not a library card holder or university student. The service features a large collection of award-winning films and documentaries that are free to members of subscribing libraries. In the same way that libraries enrich people’s lives with books, the Kanopy service gives access to films that inspire, enrich, and challenge perspectives. If your library offers the service to members, log in and stream commercial-free content.

Free for you with a library card

It’s easy to be skeptical about a free service because they’re historically ad-supported or not worth your time. But Kanopy is the real deal. Students and faculty from universities and members of participating public libraries can watch films on Kanopy without having to pay a fee or watch ads. The service is dependent on libraries subscribing on behalf of their members, so library members are not charged directly for using the service. The libraries provide the service through tax dollars or tuition.

A good source for classic movies

With the news that FilmStruck is shuttering its classic movie subscription service, there’s a void and viewers are looking for alternatives. Kanopy is a good alternative for those missing the excellent curation and collections offered by FilmStruck. It’s not exactly the same type of service, but Kanopy has a wide range of movies and documentaries you won’t find anywhere else.

Titles may vary by library or by market

For the most part, all libraries have the same content because Kanopy licenses the films for distribution directly from the owners. Sometimes the distribution rights differ in markets so that public libraries may have access to fewer or more titles than the academic libraries.

Kanopy features some of the Criterion Collection. Currently, people watching through public library memberships can have access to 50 top Criterion titles and people watching through academic libraries have access to around 400 titles.

Accessing the Kanopy service

Kanopy is available through most libraries or a .edu account. If you are a student or work at a .edu institution, you can access Kanopy. Four thousand libraries across the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. offer their members access to this streaming platform.

The service is available through a free app on platforms like Roku and Apple TV, on iOS, Android devices, or through a browser.

Over 30,000 films are available, with new titles added every month. Titles cannot be downloaded, only streamed. Many of the titles stream in HD, but some films are only available in SD.

Expanded educational topics

Because the service caters to educational institutions, sharing controls allow users to easily embed and share films, clips, or a series of clips. Embedding a film allows teachers to place the video player in a blog or course management system. Students can even link to films in PowerPoint.
The catalog of films includes instructional films and lessons on topics as varied as global studies, health, sciences, food technology, welding, hair and beauty, library and information management.

Curated titles for children

Kanopy Kids showcases educational and engaging videos appropriate for preschoolers and up. The titles are curated to encourage social and emotional development, promote respect for community diversity, and inspire creativity for children of all ages. Categories include TV Series, Learning Languages, Animated Storybooks, Anime Favorites, Classic Films, and Movies for the Whole Family. The kids’ videos feature a Common Sense Media age rating to make it easier for parents to make selections.

Marketing and expansion plans

Stephan Richard, Chief Product Officer at Kanopy, hosted an AMA on Reddit to spread the news about their product. He has twenty years of experience in video and streaming and is passionate about providing a better experience for discovering unique content. He says that the company is focused on building partnerships with public and academic libraries and have no plans to allow end-users to subscribe directly.

Richard says that the company is committed to high-quality content. A dedicated content acquisition team goes to festivals, works with suppliers and selects content for the service. They’re working on a more robust recommendation algorithm to promote and highlight films in the collection and help users find an enjoyable selection.

Library pricing models

Libraries subscribe to a plan that with a certain number of film views per members. The use-driven program pays a percentage of each fee back to the filmmaker. Libraries limit the number of titles members can check out to meet the service requirements. The service provides analytics for measuring patron usage.

On a Reddit AMA, one librarian gave an example of what the service costs in an academic setting. “I work at an academic library; we have 3,300 students. We have Kanopy, and it is great, but it costs a bundle. We paid $24,000 to Kanopy last year; this is twice what we normally spend to purchase DVD’s per year. We are currently evaluating whether to continue with Kanopy as we can’t afford both streaming and DVD purchasing.”

The service offers robust help to limit the burden on librarians

Any technology can be complex for users, but like any well-designed streaming app, Kanopy is designed to be straightforward enough so that librarians aren’t training users or becoming IT experts. The Help website content is updated with each new launch of a supported device or app.


Great films can bridge cultural boundaries, bring people together and expand worldviews. The Kanopy platform gives library patrons a chance to learn and interact with content that can open up their world. Members can log in and stream a diverse catalog of critically-acclaimed, independent films, world cinema, documentaries, and classics without spending a penny.

If you are a member of a public or academic university, you may have access to this streaming service at no cost.

Megan Southard


Article Author

Megan Southard is a writer, mom, technology enthusiast, and movie junkie. She dreads the day her kids have to explain gadgets to her and is old enough to say, "I was the remote for our TV growing up.

Disclaimer: This article may have had additional images, links or data that was added by this site's editor.

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