Public Domain Films
The majority of the moving image materials in the Library
of Congress collections are protected by copyright and as such
are not available for duplication. Researchers are welcome to view
copyrighted films at the Library to identify scenes of interest,
but the copyright owner is usually the appropriate source for obtaining
copies (see Archival/Stock Footage and Purchasing
Moving Image Material).
Questions about the copyright status of film and television works
should be addressed to the U.S.
Copyright Office. The website has a wealth of information concerning
copyright, including a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions,
a complete collection of their publications, and registration forms.
There is also an online database of registrations and renewals
since 1978. Earlier records are in card files in the copyright
office. The website describes how to access this information.
For information regarding copyright searches, contact:
U.S. Copyright Office
Reference and Bibliography Section - LM451 Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20559-6000
Phone: (202) 707-6850
Fax: (202) 252-3485
Sources for Public Domain Footage
National Archives and Records
Motion Picture, Sound and Video Unit
NARA has an extensive collection of films created for and produced
by the U.S. government that are in the public domain, including
military films, educational and documentary films (1915-1976).
NARA also has gift materials from private sources, such as Universal
Newsreel releases and outtakes (1929-67). You can search some of
their holdings using the ARC
online catalog. For further information, contact:
National Archives and Records Administration
Special Media Archives
Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Unit 8601
Adelphi Road College Park, MD 20740
Internet Moving Image
Provides near-unrestricted access to digitized collections of moving images.
The largest collection is comprised of over 1,200 ephemeral (advertising, educational,
industrial, and amateur) films made from 1927 through the present. Broadcast
quality copies can be purchased through Getty
There are books that purport to list films in the public domain,
but they should be used only as a preliminary source of information. The
Film Superlist: Motion Pictures in the U.S. Public Domain and Motion
Picture Copyrights & Renewals 1950-1959 (bibliographic
citations below) expand upon Library of Congress publications of
the Catalog of Copyright Entries by providing renewal information.
However, even for films where no renewal was found, you will need
to check further. Be sure to read the introductory matter when
using either publication.
Film Superlist: Motion Pictures in the U.S. Public Domain.
Created by Walter E. Hurst; updated edition by D. Richard Baer.
Hollywood, Calif.: Hollywood Film Archive, 1992-1994. (Three volumes
to date, covering 50,000 films from the years 1894-1939, 1940-49,
Motion Picture Copyrights & Renewals 1950-1959 by David
Pierce. Laurel, MD: Milestone, 1989.