The subject of breaking a copyright license is more usually associated in people’s minds when it’s related to music, however it’s very much an issue to be keenly aware of when it comes to film and video content also.

Some filmmakers, be they making features or short-form videos, might be tempted to draw from existing materials to either supplement their own productions or indeed to act as a complete replacement for their efforts.

This is where public domain video can sometimes come in handy….

What is Public Domain Video?

Public Domain Video refers to film and video content that can be used by individuals without the need for any license whatsoever. In this way it’s a similar concept to music content that is ‘without copyright’, and also a very small proportion of the overall film and video market.

Video content can become available in the ‘public domain’ for several reasons, but three such ways are as follows.

  • The content itself is very old and has since seen any copyright expire, leaving it open and in the public domain.
  • The film or video could have been released by a governmental organization and as such is freely available for your use.
  • In some instances, a creator, or owner, of a film or video project may deliberately make it available for all

So, at this point it’s worth mentioning that while there is a lot of public domain video content out there, it’s not easy to find and you might struggle to find something that fits your needs and as such the act of locating the relevant output will be time consuming.

Is Public Domain Video Free?

In the main, yes. However, we say this with a few caveats. Firstly, some public domain video isn’t entirely free, and you should always check the fine print within any licensing information that is provided.

Additionally you should note that for commercial use some public domain video isn’t freely available and the use of any public domain video content will involve you having to credit the relevant parties in your credits or supporting material.

There is always the chance that you don’t follow specific guidelines to the letter, and this could result in headaches in the aftermath. These could be small issues like having to pull down or put on hold, some content until it’s fixed or potentially legal issues if you haven’t jumped through all the relevant hoops.

What’s the Alternative?

The use of public domain video is, in 99% of cases, to help save you time and money in your own productions. It’s a means to an end. It’s unlikely anyone would seek out public domain video for any other reason than to cut costs.

So, an alternative to this is to use royalty-free footage, film and video offered by relevant providers for a small subscription fee.

Royalty-free footage refers to film and video content that can be used in all your projects for a set price and will helpfully avoid any potential legal issues.

The best royalty-free film providers offer a wealth of content that makes finding just what you need very simple. These services provide you with massive databases of content that covers all relevant genres and film types.

These can be in the form of short extracts to longer pieces of film that could work well within your project, or indeed you can make an entire production from the use of what’s available and the significant advantage in these, as opposed to using public domain video, is that you won’t be stuck looking for something that might not even exist.

Many filmmakers use this option, sometimes to secure footage that they cannot easily replicate (say for instance a volcano eruption, a street riot, a city view that is too far away to film personally).

The content offered is of the highest quality and therefore you won’t have to deal with any issues that could compromise your project, this is in marked contrast to the possible use of public domain video that is usually filmed decades ago.

Royalty-Free Footage Is the Wise Option

If you were to equate the search for free, usable, and effective public domain video footage as searching for the holy grail, then electing to turn your attention to royalty-free footage would be considered the easy win and preferable to looking for a needle in a haystack.