Do I need permission to use file footage and other video material?

by Sedick
(South Africa)

Question: I want to use photos and other video material in a documentary. These will be used as references to help build the story. I noticed that in many documentaries file footage, video and photos from history are used to make certain statements, story building or to refer to something someone has said etc. Do I need special permission to use this kind of material for my documentary?

Desktop Documentaries: The answer to your question totally depends on the footage and photos you want to use. There is a great deal of photos/film/video available in the public domain. Other images/film have very specific restrictions and can be quite expensive. The easiest way to know if you have the rights to use the footage is use only what you have shot yourself.

A fantastic resource for royalty free footage is the Internet Archive at Most of footage is in the public domain with little or no restrictions, but you'll need to look at the notes/instructions for each piece of footage to see what if any restrictions there are. Sometimes all they request is a credit in the film.

You may also want to look into Fair Use laws which provides a way around copyright for certain kinds of projects and situations.

For a complete explanation on how to find free footage for your documentary, go to Free Film Clips and B-Roll.

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