In historic terms, cinema is still a relatively new art, and yet the amount of footage that has been filmed since the Lumière brothers released their first film is staggering. Capturing unique materials that were never seen by the world before has become the question of prestige among the filmmakers. Nonetheless, certain genres of film are almost entirely dependent on the public domain footage. Documentaries about historic events, space or any other topic that is impossible to stage rely on the videos that entered the public domain for one reason or the other. That’s why in this article, we are going to take you through some of the best websites that let you download public domain videos.
What is Public Domain Video?
Any video that is not subject to copyright can be considered a public domain video. This means that anyone can use this footage for free without having to ask for permission to do so. Videos can enter the public domain under the following circumstances:
If the footage was produced by a government because governments are obligated by the law to offer the footage to the public domain.
In case the author of the footage has forfeited his or her copyrights and dedicated the footage to the public domain
A film or any other work of art becomes public domain 70 years after the death of the copyright holder. The expiration date of the copyrights is not the same in all the countries around the world, which is why you must make sure that the video you want to use is, in fact, a public domain video.
In addition, you should avoid using the footage that contains art or music that can be described as third-party intellectual property because you may unintentionally infringe copyrights.
Best Online Websites Where You Can Download Public Domain Videos
Finding free public domain footage or public movies on the Internet has never been too difficult, as you can watch thousands of public domain movies on YouTube, but you cannot download them. Over the course of the last couple of decades, the websites where you can download public domain footage have grown in number, which makes it somewhat easier to find the video clips you can use in your projects for free. Here are some of the best online destinations where you can download public domain videos.
With more than 17,000 items in the collection, the Prelinger Archive is probably one of the largest public domain video libraries on the Internet. The archive was founded in 1983 by Rick Prelinger, but by 2002 it became a part of the Library of Congress Motion Picture Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Divison’s collection. You can download public domain video clips created by educational institutions, advertising companies, trade associations or corporations from this impressive collection. There are different download options available for each file, so you can choose the size of a file and the method you’re going to use to download a file to your computer.
This is an excellent resource for researchers looking for essays, books, audio recordings, images or old films. The movies are divided into different categories such as Animals&Beasts, Politics, War or Sports which makes locating and downloading public domain videos faster and easier. The Public Domain Review offers footage that is available within different public domain licenses, so you must make sure that the film you want to download can be used for the purpose you have in mind. The vast majority of the films in this archive are from the last decade of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. That’s why The Public Domain Review’s selection of films can only be useful if you are researching a topic from that era.
The National Screening Room is a project created by the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center with the aim of making the videos from their collection available to the viewers around the world. The vast majority of the videos in the collection were filmed during the 20th century, but there are only a few videos available that are produced outside of the United States. The National Screening Room can be a valuable asset if you are looking for videos you can use for educational or research videos that cover topics that range from the development of the arms industry to the daily life of great American inventors.
Industry professionals don’t need an introduction to the Pond5 platform, because it is probably the largest online marketplace for royalty-free media at the moment. Their Public Domain Project contains a thousand public videos that can be downloaded for free, but the duration of these videos is limited to just two minutes To make things worse, most of these public domain videos don’t have audio, so you can only use them if you already have a soundtrack for the video you’re making. The platform offers powerful search tools that enable you to look for videos based on different parameters. You can download public domain videos in HD resolution, but you must create an account on Pond5 before you can save them to your computer.
Free public domain stock footage can be used on different types of projects, and it is usually a great choice if you’re looking for some extra shots that will make a scene in your video more cinematic. Pexels offers an impressive collection of free public domain stock videos, so you just have to insert a search term and pick a video clip that best fits your needs. The duration of the free videos you can find on Pexels rarely exceeds thirty seconds, which makes it difficult to make an entire video exclusively from free public domain stock footage. Hence it is better to use Pexels as a complementary source of shots in case you can’t go back to the filming location.
All video clips you can find on this platform are free, so you just have to select one of the categories and start browsing through the available public domain stock footage. The only condition to use the stock footage on private or commercial projects for free is to credit the Vidsplay platform in the end credits, on the website or in the description of the videos you upload to your social media channels. All stock videos on Vidsplay are available in HD or 4K resolution, and you simply have to click on the Download button below a particular video to save it.
This is yet another archive of public domain videos you can find on the Arhive.org that features countless collections of texts, images, and videos. Within the Moving Image Archive, you can find different collections that contain full feature movies, art videos, animations, cartoons or television footage. The public domain videos hosted on The Moving Image Archive cover a broad range of topics, but some of them can be in poor resolution. The Moving Image Archive can be an excellent source of footage for anyone who wants to download public domain video clips and use them in their commercial or non-commercial projects.
BBC, National Geographics or NBC are just a few among many famous television networks that use the services of PublicDomainFootage. All content on the platform is divided into Archival Footage and Historic Newsreels sections that contain categories like Atomic Age, Civil Rights or Pop Culture. You can also use PublicDomainFootage to research a particular topic and request content that is not uploaded to the website. You can download a public domain video after you pay a one time fee that enables you to use that video as many times as you want. The platform’s YouTube channel provides an easy way of searching for public domain videos you are going to use in your next documentary film.
Space exploration is undoubtedly one of the hottest topics of our era, so if you are looking for some space public domain videos NASA’s website is the best place to start. Like all other government institutions, NASA is obligated by the law to offer all images and videos to the public domain. This means that all content you download from their website is free to use. Simply insert the search term and browse the results until you find the video clip you want to save to your computer. However, most public domain videos you can download from NASA’s website last only a couple of minutes.
The collection of free public domain stock footage, this website offers contains more than 4,000 clips. Categories like Cityscape, Animals or Water contain hundreds of stock videos, so you just have to open one of the available categories and locate the video clip you want to download. However, you must first create an account on Motion Elements before you can save video files to your computer. In addition, the platform doesn’t allow you to make more than five downloads per week and you must invite your friends to join the platform if you want to increase the weekly number of downloads. Even so, Motion Elements is a great source of stock footage you can use without any restrictions.
Is It Okay to Use Public Domain Videos for Commercial Purposes?
All public domain videos can be used for both commercial and non-commercial projects, but you must approach using public domain videos for commercial purposes with caution. Crediting the author or providing the source from which you acquired the footage will reduce the likelihood of legal complications. The public domain videos that feature famous actors or third party intellectual property can also be a subject of legal disputes, which is why it is better to avoid using them on commercial projects.
What Should You Do If You Can’t Find Public Domain Footage for Your Project?
Opting for videos that are protected by the Creative Commons licenses is probably the safest option if you’re struggling to find the public domain footage you’d like to use in your project. Respecting the terms of the license under which a video is protected is of utmost importance, since failing to properly credit the author of the video, for instance, can have legal consequences. There are several different types of Creative Commons licenses and you must find out which one covers the video you’d like to use, before publishing your video. You can find more information about Creative Commons licenses at the FAQ.
Public domain videos cover very different topics, which means that the nature of your project determines the source from which you’ll acquire the footage. If you are researching the early days of cinema, then you’ll have no trouble downloading the public domain videos, but if the topic you’re exploring is more contemporary, finding the content you can use without any restrictions can prove to be troublesome. Which website do you like to use the most to download public domain videos? Leave a comment and share your opinions with us.
Liza Brown is a writer and a lover of all things video.
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