Public Domain Videos & Clips in 2023: How to Use Them

Jul 11, 2023
3 min read
Video Stock Footage

Public domain videos can still be a valuable resource for commercial and creative projects, especially when budget constraints and licensing concerns are factors. To overcome some of the limitations, content creators can consider using a combination of public domain footage, original content, and appropriately licensed elements to create unique and engaging projects while staying within legal boundaries. It's essential to thoroughly research the source and copyright status of any public domain video before using it in a project.

What is public domain video?

Public domain videos are videos that are not protected by copyright or intellectual property rights, or their copyrights have expired, making them freely available for anyone to use, modify, and distribute without any legal restrictions.

These videos can be used for various purposes, including educational, commercial, and creative projects, without the need to obtain permission from the original creators or pay licensing fees.

How to use public domain video?

Here's an overview of how public domain videos can be used:

  • Creative Projects: Filmmakers, content creators, and artists can incorporate public domain videos into their projects. For example, they can use historical footage in documentaries or create remixes and mash-ups with existing public domain content.
  • Educational Materials: Public domain videos are valuable resources for educators and students. Teachers can use them in classrooms for lectures or presentations, and students can include them in their projects and assignments.
  • Historical Research: Historians and researchers can use public domain videos to study past events, societal changes, and cultural aspects. The availability of historical footage can provide valuable insights into different time periods.
  • Commercial Use: Businesses may utilize public domain videos in advertisements, promotional materials, or as part of their multimedia presentations without the worry of copyright infringement.
  • Remixes and Collages: Artists and creators can combine multiple public domain videos to produce new works, creating unique collages, and transformative pieces of art.
  • Archival and Preservation: Public domain videos are often used for archiving and preserving cultural heritage. Museums, libraries, and archives can digitize and make historical videos available to the public.
  • Stock Footage: Public domain videos can serve as a source of stock footage for video production companies, filmmakers, and multimedia projects.


What’s the Difference Between Public Domain Video and Stock Footage?

Stock footage and public domain videos are both valuable resources for content creators, but they differ in their copyright status and usage restrictions:

Stock Footage
  • Copyrighted Content: Stock footage refers to video clips or footage that are owned by individuals or companies who license them for use by others. These videos are protected by copyright, and users must typically pay licensing fees to obtain the right to use them in their projects.
  • Usage Restrictions: The usage rights of stock footage are defined by the terms of the licensing agreement. These restrictions can vary widely, and they may limit how, where, and for what purpose the footage can be used. For example, some licenses may allow use in a specific project but not for resale or distribution.
  • Quality and Variety: Stock footage is often professionally shot, and it covers a wide range of subjects, styles, and resolutions. This variety makes it a versatile option for content creators who need specific footage for their projects.
  • Attribution and Credit: Depending on the licensing agreement, some stock footage may require attribution or credit to the original creator or the stock footage website/platform.
Public Domain Video
  • No Copyright Protection: Public domain videos are not protected by copyright or intellectual property rights, either because the copyright has expired or because the creators have willingly relinquished their rights. As a result, they are freely available for anyone to use, modify, and distribute without any legal restrictions.
  • Unlimited Usage: There are no usage restrictions for public domain videos, allowing users to utilize them for any purpose, including commercial projects, without the need for licensing or paying fees.
  • Diverse Content: Public domain videos can include historical footage, government-produced content, old films, and other works where the copyright has lapsed. The content can be diverse, but it may not always have the same level of professional quality as stock footage.
  • No Attribution Required: When using public domain videos, there is typically no need to provide attribution or credit to the original creator since the videos are in the public domain.

In summary, the main difference between stock footage and public domain videos lies in their copyright status and the associated usage restrictions. Stock footage is copyrighted content that requires licensing and has specific usage limitations, while public domain videos are not protected by copyright and can be freely used for any purpose without restrictions.

Is public video free?

Public domain videos are generally free to use, but it's essential to clarify what "public video" means in this context.

  1. Public Domain Videos: Videos that are in the public domain are not protected by copyright or intellectual property rights, or their copyrights have expired, making them freely available for anyone to use, modify, and distribute without any legal restrictions. Public domain videos are indeed free to use for any purpose, including commercial and creative projects, without the need to obtain permission or pay licensing fees.
  2. Publicly Accessible Videos: On the other hand, there might be videos that are publicly accessible, meaning they are available for viewing by the public, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are in the public domain. Videos hosted on platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, or other websites can be publicly accessible but still under copyright protection. In such cases, using these videos without permission or proper licensing would be a copyright infringement, which could lead to legal issues.

To be sure that a video is free to use, modify, and distribute without restrictions, you should look for videos specifically labeled as "public domain" or ensure that the video's copyright has expired. Websites like the Internet Archive, NASA's Video Gallery , Wikimedia Commons, and various government archives are reliable sources for genuine public domain videos. Always verify the licensing terms and copyright status of any video before using it in your projects to avoid any potential legal complications.

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What Are the Limitations of Public Domain Video for Commercial or Creative Projects?

While public domain videos offer significant advantages for commercial and creative projects due to their unrestricted use, there are some limitations and considerations that content creators should be aware of:

  1. Quality and Resolution: Public domain videos may not always meet the same quality standards as professionally shot stock footage. Some public domain videos might be in lower resolutions or exhibit visual artifacts due to their age or source. It can be challenging to find high-definition or 4K resolution footage in the public domain.
  2. Limited Availability: While there is a vast amount of public domain content available, it might not cover very specific or niche topics. Finding the exact footage you need for your project could be more challenging compared to commercial stock footage libraries that offer a wide range of subjects and styles.
  3. Copyrighted Elements: Although the video itself may be in the public domain, other elements within the video, such as background music, narration, or graphics, may still be protected by copyright. If you want to use public domain videos in combination with other elements, ensure that those elements are also in the public domain or have the necessary permissions.
  4. Outdated Content: Some public domain videos might contain outdated information, technology, or cultural representations, which may not align with modern standards or audience expectations. Careful consideration should be taken when using historical content for contemporary projects.
  5. Lack of Support or Updates: Public domain videos are not maintained or updated by a copyright holder, as there is no copyright owner. Therefore, if you encounter any issues with the footage or need support, there might not be any official channels to address those concerns.
  6. Licensing Confusion: In some cases, videos that are thought to be in the public domain might still be under copyright protection. Determining the copyright status of older works can be complex, and there could be legal risks if you use a video that is mistakenly assumed to be in the public domain.
  7. Cultural Sensitivity: Historical public domain videos might contain content that is not culturally sensitive or can be considered offensive in modern contexts. Be cautious when using such footage and ensure it is appropriate for your intended audience.


It's important to note that while the videos themselves may be in the public domain, any additional elements added to them, such as music, narration, or graphics, might be subject to copyright restrictions. Therefore, it's essential to ensure that any other elements used in conjunction with public domain videos also have the proper permissions or are in the public domain. offered high-quality stock videos that were free to use for commercial purposes. This made it an attractive option for businesses, marketers, and content creators who needed video content for their projects without incurring licensing costs.

I can provide some reasons why was favored by content creators at that time:

  • regularly updated its collection of stock videos, ensuring a diverse and fresh selection of footage for users to choose from.
  • The videos on were organized into various categories, making it convenient for users to find content relevant to their specific needs.
  • The platform focused on curating high-quality videos, ensuring that users had access to visually appealing and professional-looking footage.
  • While it's essential to review the licensing terms for each video, many of the videos on did not require attribution when used in projects, simplifying the content crediting process for creators.

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