General knowledge guide to copyright material.

On the whole, be it film or television footage; user generated content, commercial music or images of people or things (the material), if you didn’t create it, you cannot use it for commercial gain.

Here are some interesting facts that go against that reasoning (there’s always exceptions to a rule).

  • Art work is copyright free after 75 years of artist’s death
  • Public domain content is free, but high resolution versions aren’t always available and will cost you in a ‘service charge’ from the owner
  • There are different clearance requirements depending the material’s intended use: for example – location versus a set; a picture doesn’t need clearing on location necessarily if its on a news interview, however its its part of a film set, it does.

It is a murky world, so by way of a little further clarity, if material is used editorially; meaning, if you’re a news or blog outlet writing about a subject, you can use it in that context, if it’s in the public domain.


This means whether you’re writing or blogging about president Obama or Baked Beans you can use a images of them or even a soundbite without fear of breaking guidelines.

Part of our services at ARC is to make sure material is cleared for commercial use. Our typical clients are advertising agencies making commercials who want to use material that’s been created before-hand for its original use. This is a non-editorial example.

The widely celebrate ‘Happy Birthday’ song, although older than 75 years, is seldom heard of TV, film, theatre or radio because although the authors (two elderly sisters) are long deceased, they left an estate, so a fee would have to be paid to that estate to clear its use.

The rule of thumb is: if your use of archive material is commercial, you’ll need it cleared for use: this is where we come into our own, as we provide this service, efficiently and cost effectively.