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Subject Research, Archival Footage, and Public Domain Films in the Moving Image Research Center

Subject Research

The reference librarians in the Moving Image Research Center do not undertake subject research. Most of the works in our collections have not been fully cataloged and are accessible primarily by title. Identifying films and videos by subject requires a variety of strategies, including keyword searches of our various manual and online catalogs, searching our vertical files, and compiling title lists from secondary reference sources. Since, our small staff cannot perform the time consuming research needed for stock footage requests, a personal visit to the Moving Image Research Center is usually required. If you are unable to travel to the Washington, DC metro area, we are happy to provide a list of local freelance researchers upon request.

Please note that the Library of Congress Online Catalog does not possess a comprehensive listing of our holdings. A significant portion of the items in our collection appear only in manual card catalogs and internal databases. Please refer to the Researching LC Moving Image Holdings web page for information about our card catalogs, internal databases and finding aids. For reference assistance, please contact the Moving Image Research Center.

Archival/Stock Footage Research

The Moving Image Research Center is often asked to provide stock footage for use in film and television productions. As an archive, we are primarily concerned with preserving our motion picture and television collections and making them available for serious research in the Moving Image Research Center.

Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., (1924)

The majority of the films and videos in our collection are not available for duplication due to copyright and/or donor restrictions. Researchers are welcome to view copyrighted and donor restricted films in the reading room to identify scenes of interest. However, if the intention is to obtain copies of the material in our collection, written permission from the copyright owner and/or collection donor may be required. Please refer to our guidelines for Obtaining Copies of Moving Image Material.

Turn-of-the-Century Film Collections

The most accessible archival footage in the Library of congress comes from our turn-of-the-century film collections. Historical films in our Paper Print, George Kleine, and Theodore Roosevelt collections include a wide variety of fiction and actuality films. Three book catalogs describing these three collections have been published, each with subject indexing (see citations below). While the book catalogs are out of print, full-text digital copies can be found on the Hathi Trust website.

Early Motion Pictures: The Paper Print Collection in the Library of Congress by Kemp Niver (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1985). Summary: Describes approximately 3,000 films made between 1894 and 1915. Some libraries may only have the previous edition: Motion Pictures from the Library of Congress Paper Print Collection, 1894-1912" (Berkeley: University of California Press,1967) Full-Text External Link

The George Kleine Collection of Early Motion Pictures in the Library of Congress: A Catalog (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1980). Summary: Describes 456 motion pictures produced between 1898 and 1926. Full-Text External Link

The Theodore Roosevelt Association Film Collection: A Catalog (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1986). Summary: Describes 318 films relating to the life and career of Theodore Roosevelt. Full-Text External Link

The Kleine and Roosevelt films are also searchable in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Over 700 historical films from the Paper Print, George Kleine and Theodore Roosevelt collections can be viewed online and downloaded through the Library of Congress Digital Collections website.

For information about ordering broadcast quality copies of the films in our collection, please contact the Moving Image Research Center.

Public Domain Films

The Moving Image Research Center does not maintain a list of the public domain films in our collection. The majority of the moving image materials in our holdings are protected by copyright and/or donor restrictions. Researchers are welcome to view copyrighted and donor restricted films in our viewing room, but written permission from the copyright owner and/or collection donor may be required for duplication.

Questions about the current copyright status of film and television works should be directed to the U.S. Copyright Office.

Copyright Office
Records Research and Certification
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20559- 6000
Phone: (202) 707-6850
Web site:
Copyright Database:

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. In addition, there is an online database of copyright registrations and renewals since 1978. Registrations and renewals prior to 1978 are accessible through a physical card catalog housed in the Copyright Office. Please contact the Copyright Office for additional information.

Reference Sources for Public Domain Films

There are books that claim to list films in the public domain, but they should only be used as a preliminary source of information; the Copyright Office should be your main resource for reliable copyright information:

Film Superlist: Motion Pictues 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, and 1950-59) These volumes expand upon Library of Congress publications of the Catalog of Copyright Entries by providing renewal information. However, even for films where no copyright renewal was found, you will need to check further. Be sure to read the introductory matter when using either publication.

Motion Picture Copyrights and Renewals, 1950-1959. by David Pierce. Laurel, MD: Milestone, 1989.

Resources for Public Domain Footage

National Archives and Records Administration External Link
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).

Internet Archive External Link
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.

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  September 12, 2022
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