Prelinger Archives FAQ: Licensing, Access, Collections



1. How can I access films or footage from Prelinger Archives?

Two ways.

-- You can download digital files from the Internet Archive that are yours to use without restriction. These files are available under a Creative Commons Public Domain License. We do not provide written license agreements or make any other representations or warranties other than the Creative Commons License. We do not provide physical materials (e.g., film, videotape, DVD, hard disks, flash drives).

-- You can license stock footage through Getty Images. Getty Images also furnishes written license agreements and physical materials. Prelinger Archives and the Internet Archive do not.

The rest of this FAQ gives more detail about these two ways to access our collection. Please read this entire page before contacting us with questions.

2. How do I license stock footage and get a written license agreement?

Archival and stock footage from Prelinger Archives is licensed only through our exclusive representative, Getty Images. They offer rapid access to all available material. They can research the collection for specific topics and deliver highest-quality material very quickly in all formats. They warrant that footage is clear for your use and supply written license agreements. They charge license fees for use of footage and require that the physical materials they lend be returned when your production is finished.

If you are in need of stock footage, please contact Getty as follows:

Getty Images
75 Varick Street
New York, NY 10013 USA
+1 (646) 613-4100 (voice)
+1 (646) 613-4601 (fax)
+1 (800) 876-5115 (tollfree in USA)

3. How can I get access to films or stock footage for free?

Most key items in our collection are also available for free viewing and downloading through the Internet Archive. This site hosts digital video files representing approximately 2,000 (soon to be 2,500) key films from the Prelinger collection. We anticipate that the films on this site will satisfy most research requests. Most users will find that a broadband connection (DSL, cable modem, etc.) is required to download files that are often very large. The MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 files are high-quality but compressed, and thus lack some of the detail, resolution and fluidity of conventional broadcast-quality video. They are, however, excellent for research, screening, teaching and low-end production use. All of our online films are offered under the Creative Commons Public Domain License.

4. What are the characteristics of the online films at the Internet Archive?

Films from the Prelinger Collection hosted by the Internet Archive are available in MPEG-2 format (.mpg files) playable on PC-compatible machines equipped with hardware decoder boards or compatible software players, or Macintoshes equipped with the QuickTime Player MPEG-2 plugin, available from The Apple Store. As of 2008, films are now being offered in the higher-quality MPEG-4 format. We also recommend the open-source VLC player. These are large files (10 minutes of video equals about 250 MB) and as such are downloadable but not streamable. Many titles are also available in the more compact DivX;) format (.avi files) playable on computers equipped with appropriate MPEG-4 codecs and players; VCD (MPEG-1 format), playable on Macintoshes and PCs using the QuickTime Player; MPEG-4; "editable" MPEG-4 files suitable for import into Final Cut Pro; and two streamable RealPlayer formats, one suitable for dialup users, the other for broadband. For more information about this project, including information on downloading and compatible players, please visit the Internet Archive website.

5. How can I get a written license agreement for Prelinger films? How can I get a written guarantee that material is free to use?

If you require a written license agreement, please contact Getty Images. No other entity is authorized to license stock footage from Prelinger Archives. The Internet Archive does NOT furnish written license agreements nor make any warranties or representations as to the footage other than what may be stated on its website. In addition, please be aware that the Internet Archive hosts other collections besides Prelinger Archives on its site, and some of these collections may carry certain restrictions that differ from the Prelinger Archives. The Internet Archive does NOT furnish copies of these films on film, videotape, DVD, hard disks or other physical media.

6. Do I need further permission to use digital files of Prelinger Collection films?

Your use of the digital files you download is governed by the Creative Commons Public Domain License. No permission is needed to download or reuse data files that you have downloaded from the Prelinger Collection at the Internet Archive. We warmly encourage you to download, view, and use the data files in any manner that you wish, although we ask that you not resell them as stock footage or charge anyone for the files that you have downloaded, as we wish them to remain free to all. You may download data files from the Prelinger Collection at the Internet Archive, incorporate them into your own production, and distribute, sell or license your own production in any way you please. If you require a written license agreement, however, please contact Getty Images. No other entity is authorized to license stock footage from Prelinger Archives.

Please be aware that public domain materials may occasionally incorporate copyrighted elements (such as music and images) that might not be free to use outside the context of the original film. We urge you to seek legal advice if you are in doubt regarding the materials you wish to use.

7. Can I get access to physical film materials in Prelinger Archives?

The Prelinger Archives film collection was acquired by the Library of Congress in August 2002. The Library has not yet processed the collection and cannot currently fulfill any research requests. The film materials are presently in storage pending movement to and cataloging at the Library's new Packard Campus, National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia. However, Prelinger Archives holds approximately 3,500 titles in video and digital formats, which are all available immediately through Getty Images. Many are also available through the Internet Archive (see above). Prelinger Archives retains the exclusive right to duplicate films and footage from its collection that are now held by the Library of Congress for twelve years.

8. How can I get Internet Archive technical support?

If you need technical support regarding the Internet Archive, you may address questions and issues to Archive Support or consult the archives of the moviearchive mailing list.

9. Do I need to credit Prelinger Archives or the Internet Archive when I use your material?

We would be delighted if you credit Prelinger Archives and the Internet Archive ( for films or footage that you use, but we do not require that you do so. We'd love to see what you've made using our footage if you are interested in sending us a copy (address here), but this is your choice.

10. What is the Prelinger Archives access policy?

Prelinger Archives, a private corporation, is committed to providing public access to its collections, subject to time and staff limitations, availability, condition or preservation status of specific materials, and the impact of the requester's project upon the cultural and social landscape. We offer five primary access alternatives:

  • Stock footage, for those wishing to incorporate footage into a program or project (see above);
  • Program licensing, for those wishing to use a film in its entirety or for use as programming (see below);
  • The Internet Archive, an online archive that offers digitized versions of over 2,000 key titles in our collection for free downloading and reuse (see above);
  • Products, videodiscs, CD-ROMs and videotapes of key films and film segments from the collection;
  • Other access to Prelinger Archives, available when no other alternative meets the needs of the requester (see below).

    11. Can I license complete films from Prelinger Archives for use in programming?

    Prelinger Archives retains the right to license films in their entirety or for use as programming. Please contact us to discuss your need for archival films as program content in all media and markets.

    12. Is there other access to Prelinger Archives?

    We provide access to researchers, scholars, noncommercial users and interested members of the public, subject to certain time and resource limitations. We prefer to fulfill as many research needs as possible through the facilities of the Internet Archive (see above). If you wish to access our archives for other purposes, please contact Rick Prelinger.

    13. Are there other resources on Prelinger Archives?

    Access to the Prelinger Archives database
    The portion of our database representing film available for stock footage licensing is available through the Archive Films by Getty Images website or through

    Collections summary (224K)
    A general introduction to the archives, with descriptions of 69 individual collections.


    A Short History of Prelinger Archives, Part I
    The first part of an ongoing narrative. Part II is now in preparation.


    October 14, 2008