Archive Footage Rights | Prelinger Archives

by Jake Evans

QUESTION: Hello, I'm currently working on a 15 minute corporate documentary for a large swiss watch brand and we're struggling to understand the rights to use archive footage, in particular footage from Public Domains such as the Prelinger Archives at

The film itself will be shown online, used promotionally by the company at events and also shown on in-flight entertainment systems.

What I'm struggling to understand is in order for me to use Public Domain archive footage from the Prelinger Archive, do I need to have a written license from the archive as well? Bearing in mind where the film will be shown.

They say that in order to have a written license and to access physical and HD copies of the films you have to go through getty images and pay a fee. But say if we just wanted to download the SD version from, would we still need to have written rights to its use within the film?

Hopefully that makes sense, looking forward to your response.


Desktop Documentaries | Answer
By Faith Fuller, Publisher

Hi Jake,

Thanks for your question. I feel your pain! Figuring out footage/music rights can be quite the investigative process.

Unfortunately, I do not have a good answer for you. Usually all the rights information is included with the various clips on the Prelinger Archive. I agree with you that the information they provided is confusing.

It SOUNDS like you'd be safe using the SD footage (maybe there's just a cost for the manpower of getting you a high quality physical copy), but making assumptions is a quick way to get in trouble. :)

If I were you, I'd try to contact a real human at and get them to clarify the information. And if you can't get through there, contact Getty to get clarification.

All the Prelinger Licensing FAQs and contact information is on this page:

Wish I could be more helpful. Maybe someone else will chime in below with additional insights!

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