How to Find Archival Footage: Historical Video Clips

Jul 19, 2023
5 min read
Video Stock Footage

Archival footage plays a crucial role in preserving history, culture, and societal changes. It is often used in documentaries, films, educational projects, and other media to provide historical context, enrich storytelling, and connect contemporary audiences with the past. 

Where to Find Archival Footage in 2023?

Finding archival footage for your videos can be done through various online platforms and archives. Here are some popular sources to explore:

1. Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is a vast digital library that offers a wide range of public domain video footage , including historical films, newsreels, documentaries, and more. It's an excellent resource for finding archival footage from different time periods.

2. National Archives  

Many countries have national archives that provide access to historical footage and government-produced videos. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is one such example, offering a collection of archival videos and films.

3. Prelinger Archives  

This collection, housed within the Internet Archive, specializes in educational, industrial, and amateur films from the 20th century. It includes a diverse range of footage suitable for various projects.

4. Library of Congress  

The Library of Congress also offers a substantial collection of archival videos, films, and audio recordings that can be a valuable resource for content creators.

5. Getty Images

While Getty Images is known for commercial stock footage , it also offers a substantial archival footage collection featuring historical events, personalities, and cultural moments.

6. CriticalPast  

CriticalPast provides a large collection of historical footage, including news events, wars, and cultural moments, suitable for various video projects.

7. Shutterstock Editorial

Shutterstock offers an editorial section with historical and archival footage, including iconic moments from different eras.

8. News Archives

Many news organizations maintain archives of historical footage. Check the websites of reputable news outlets to see if they offer access to their archives.

Remember to always verify the licensing terms and copyright status of any footage you find. While some sources offer public domain or royalty-free footage, others may require licensing or attribution. Be sure to use the footage according to the terms and conditions set by the source to avoid copyright infringement.

Is archival footage copyright free?

Archival footage is not automatically copyright-free. The copyright status of archival footage depends on various factors, including the time it was created, the jurisdiction's copyright laws, and any subsequent copyright renewals or extensions.

Here are some key points to consider regarding the copyright status of archival footage:

  1. Public Domain: If the footage is in the public domain, it means that its copyright has expired, or it was never eligible for copyright protection in the first place. Public domain footage is free to use, modify, and distribute without restrictions. Keep in mind that the rules for determining when a work enters the public domain vary depending on the country and the time of creation.
  2. Expired Copyright: In many cases, older archival footage may have entered the public domain due to the expiration of its copyright term. Copyright terms have changed over time, but in general, older works might have fallen into the public domain.
  3. No Copyright or Waived Rights: Some archival footage may have been created by government agencies or individuals who chose to waive their copyright or dedicate the work to the public domain through various legal means. In such cases, the footage would be free to use without restrictions.
  4. Copyrighted Content: If the footage is still under copyright protection, it cannot be used without proper authorization from the copyright owner. Using copyrighted footage without permission could lead to copyright infringement and legal consequences.
  5. Fair Use: In some instances, using copyrighted archival footage might be permitted under the fair use doctrine, which allows limited use of copyrighted material for specific purposes such as criticism, commentary, education, or news reporting. However, fair use is a complex legal concept, and its application varies depending on the circumstances of each use.

When working with archival footage, it's crucial to verify its copyright status before using it in your projects. Websites and archives that provide archival footage often indicate the copyright status and usage terms for each video. If you're unsure about the copyright status of a specific piece of archival footage, consider seeking legal advice to ensure compliance with copyright laws.

Read Also:

What Is the Difference Between A-Roll and B-Roll Footage?

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Is archival footage the same as actual footage?

Archival footage and actual footage are related but distinct concepts:

Archival Footage

  • Archival footage refers to historical or previously recorded video footage that is typically stored in archives, libraries, or collections. It often consists of films, newsreels, documentaries, home videos, or other recordings created in the past.
  • Archival footage is not necessarily created for contemporary or specific projects but is preserved as a historical record of events, people, places, or cultural moments.
  • It can cover a wide range of subjects, including historical events, famous personalities, cultural phenomena, and everyday life from different time periods.

Actual Footage

  • Actual footage, also known as contemporary or current footage, refers to video recordings captured in the present time, often for specific projects or purposes.
  • This footage is captured using modern recording equipment and reflects current events, environments, people, and situations.
  • Actual footage is often used in news reporting, documentaries, vlogs, corporate videos, advertisements, and various other video projects that require up-to-date content .

What is considered archival footage?

Archival footage refers to historical or previously recorded video footage that is typically preserved and stored in archives, libraries, or collections. It includes a wide range of video recordings created in the past and serves as a historical record of events, people, places, or cultural moments. The content of archival footage can vary widely, but some common examples include:

  1. Historical Events: Footage of significant historical events such as political speeches, protests, wars, space missions, natural disasters, and other pivotal moments in history.
  2. Newsreels and Documentaries: Video recordings produced for news reporting or documentary purposes, capturing various aspects of life and events from different time periods.
  3. Home Videos: Personal recordings captured by individuals, families, or amateur filmmakers that offer insights into daily life, cultural practices, and social activities of the past.
  4. Educational Films: Videos produced for educational purposes, covering topics such as science, history, health, and social issues from past eras.
  5. Cultural and Artistic Performances: Footage of performances, concerts, theater plays, dance shows, and other cultural or artistic events that provide a glimpse into the arts and entertainment of bygone times.
  6. Archival Photos and Films Reused as Footage: Some archival footage may be composed of old photographs that have been animated or transformed into videos, creating a historical montage.
  7. Government and Public Domain Footage: Videos produced by government agencies or entities that showcase public affairs, cultural heritage, tourism, or promotional materials.
  8. Industrial Films: Videos created for industrial or corporate purposes, showcasing manufacturing processes, business practices, and workplace environments of past industries.

Using Archival Footage for Video Projects

Using archival footage for video projects can be a valuable and creative way to add historical context, authenticity, and visual interest to your content. However, it's essential to follow some guidelines and best practices to ensure that you use the footage legally and ethically. Here are some steps to consider when using archival footage for your video projects:

  • Research Copyright Status: Before using any archival footage, determine its copyright status. Some archival footage may be in the public domain and free to use without restrictions, while others may still be under copyright protection. If the footage is copyrighted, you will need to obtain the necessary permissions or licenses from the copyright owner.
  • Choose Reputable Sources: Use archival footage from reputable sources, such as national archives, libraries, museums, or established stock footage platforms. These sources often provide information about the copyright status and usage rights of their footage.
  • Verify Usage Terms: Even if the footage is in the public domain, some archives may have specific usage terms, such as requiring attribution or prohibiting commercial use. Read and comply with the usage terms provided by the archive.
  • Quality and Format Considerations: Consider the quality and format of the archival footage. Older footage may have lower resolution or visual imperfections, which could affect its integration into your project. Choose footage that aligns with the overall aesthetic of your video.
  • Blend with Contemporary Footage: When using archival footage in a modern video, ensure a smooth transition by blending it with contemporary footage. Use video editing techniques like color grading or applying film grain to create a cohesive look.
  • Contextualize the Footage: Provide context for the archival footage by including relevant information or narration that explains its significance and historical relevance within your project.
  • Check for Model and Property Releases: In some cases, the archival footage may feature recognizable individuals or copyrighted properties. Ensure that necessary model or property releases are obtained, especially if the footage will be used for commercial purposes.
  • Respect Cultural Sensitivity: Be mindful of the cultural and historical context of the footage you use, especially when dealing with sensitive or potentially controversial subjects.
  • Credit the Source: Even if not required, consider crediting the source of the archival footage as a gesture of respect and to acknowledge the value of the archival material.
  • Keep a Record of Permissions: If you obtain permissions or licenses to use copyrighted footage, keep a record of these permissions in case of any future inquiries or legal issues.

By following these guidelines, you can ethically and effectively incorporate archival footage into your video projects, adding depth and authenticity to your storytelling while respecting copyright laws and the historical significance of the material.


In summary, archival footage is historical footage that has been preserved and archived for its historical significance, while actual footage refers to contemporary video recordings captured in the present time. The use of archival footage in projects can add historical context, provide visual references, or serve as valuable storytelling elements to complement actual footage or contemporary content. offered high-quality stock videos that were free to use for commercial and personal purposes. Users, such as content creators, marketers, and video producers, can utilize the videos from to enhance their projects without worrying about copyright issues.

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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