Public domain video is a great source of content for clips, transformative projects, and, frankly, just entertainment.
Public domain video—and any other content, such as audio and text—is completely free of copyright, and can be consumed for free, as well as used in other media without having to seek permission.
Naturally, with YouTube being easily the largest distributor of free-to-consume video around, there is plenty of public domain video on YouTube… if you know where to look. Though this is by no means an exhaustive list, we’ve collected together some good channels for public domain content.
What is “Public Domain”?
If you’re not sure what public domain means, it is essentially a piece of content that has either passed naturally out of copyright due to age, been released from copyright by the copyright holder, or was never copyrighted in the first place.
Public domain material has no licencing requirements or restrictions, and can be used in part or in whole for any purpose, including commercial. A popular example of someone using public domain content to make something new is the 2009 novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. This novel uses the original text from the classic novel, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, but adds more narrative, turning the story of 19th-century English aristocracy into one set amidst a world full of zombies.
If you are interesting in uploading public domain content to your YouTube channel, check this post out.
Public Domain Movies YouTube
Cinema has been around for a long time, and there are many movies that, either by quirks of copyright law, a filmmakers generous nature, or just the length of time since they were made, have passed into the public domain. Here are some channels where you can find entire public domain movies.
Public Domain Films
As the name of the channel suggest, Public Domain Films uploads entire public domain movies. There is a lot of variety here, from 7-minute shorts to full 90-minute movies. Some are in colour, some are relatively recent. There are films as recent as the late 1980s on there.
Public Domain Movies — Classic Movies Free
Much the same as above, Public Domain Movies has a wide selection of full movies that are in the public domain. This channel also has a selection of playlists, breaking those movies up into genres to make it easier to find something you like.
Public Domain Cinema
Public Domain Cinema is, broadly speaking, the same as the previous two suggestions, though with over 300 films, they are bound to have some public domain movies that Public Domain Films and Public Domain Movies don’t have.
Public Domain Music YouTube
Public domain media is not limited to movies, and there can be just as much of a demand for public domain music. Here are a few channels that deliver that very thing.
Audio Library is a channel dedicated to collecting copyright-free music for creators to use in their projects. And, with over four million subscribers, it is an incredibly popular resource.
It should be noted that not everything on this channel is public domain—there is a lot of Creative Commons music, and other licences that allow people to use the music freely while not being public domain. For most use-cases, this will be a minor detail, but if you are planning on using the audio in your videos, you should always make sure you know what the licencing and copyright situation is.
Public Domain Classical Music
Being one of the oldest genres to be recorded, it shouldn’t be surprising that there is a lot of classical music in the public domain. Public Domain Classical Music is a channel dedicated to just that.
Public Domain Music
Public Domain Music doesn’t have a gimmick or specialisation, but it is another source of public domain music that you can use in your videos without having to ask permission. You can also just enjoy listening to it, if you wish.
Why is Public Domain Content on YouTube?
You might be wondering why anyone goes to the trouble of uploading public domain videos and music to YouTube, and there are a couple of answers to this.
The first answer is pretty straightforward; money. There is no copyright on public domain videos, which means there is no restriction on what you can do with it, and that includes monetising it. Populate a channel with hundreds of public domain videos, promote it, and rake in the cash, right?
Well, not exactly. While this has no doubt worked for some, YouTube has a policy against monetising duplicate content, even if there are no copyright issues at play.
The second reason is accessibility. You see, while public domain content is free, the distribution is not. If a book publisher does a printing run of a popular novel that is now in the public domain, you can’t demand they give you the book for free because they still paid for the printing and the paper. Likewise, any online video host is paying for the bandwidth and storage of that content, and the fact that they are hosting public domain materials does not obligate them to give you access.
However, YouTube allows free access to all its normal video content, so uploading public domain videos and music to YouTube is a great way to make sure it is available to everyone for free.
If we’re being completely honest, you’re probably not looking for public domain content to consume it. The chances are, if you’re the kind of person who is interested in obscure movies from 1923, you’ve probably already seen them.
The more likely reason, of course, is that you want to use public domain media in your videos, and that is a perfectly legal and acceptable thing to do under the current laws.
Can you monetize public domain footage? – Just remember that you can’t simply re-upload public domain content wholesale and expect to monetise it. YouTube will let you upload it, but they won’t let you monetise it as it will be considered re-used content.
Top 5 Tools To Get You Started on YouTube
Very quickly before you go here are 5 amazing tools I have used every day to grow my YouTube channel from 0 to 30K subscribers in the last 12 months that I could not live without.
1. VidIQ helps boost my views and get found in search
I almost exclusively switched to VidIQ from a rival in 2020.
2. Adobe Creative Suite helps me craft amazing looking thumbnails and eye-catching videos
I have been making youtube videos on and off since 2013.
When I first started I threw things together in Window Movie Maker, cringed at how it looked but thought “that’s the best I can do so it’ll have to do”.
I soon realized the move time you put into your editing and the more engaging your thumbnails are the more views you will get and the more people will trust you enough to subscribe.
That is why I took the plunge and invested in my editing and design process with Adobe Creative Suite. They offer a WIDE range of tools to help make amazing videos, simple to use tools for overlays, graphics, one click tools to fix your audio and the very powerful Photoshop graphics program to make eye-catching thumbnails.
Best of all you can get a free trial for 30 days on their website, a discount if you are a student and if you are a regular human being it starts from as little as £9 per month if you want to commit to a plan.
3. Rev.com helps people read my videos
You can’t always listen to a video.
Maybe you’re on a bus, a train or sat in a living room with a 5 year old singing baby shark on loop… for HOURS. Or, you are trying to make as little noise as possible while your new born is FINALLY sleeping.
This is where Rev can help you or your audience consume your content on the go, in silence or in a language not native to the video.
Rev.com can help you translate your videos, transcribe your videos, add subtitles and even convert those subtitles into other languages – all from just $1.50 per minute.
A GREAT way to find an audience and keep them hooked no matter where they are watching your content.
4. PlaceIT can help you STAND OUT on YouTube
I SUCK at making anything flashy or arty.
I have every intention in the world to make something that looks cool but im about as artistic as a dropped ice-cream cone on the web windy day.
That is why I could not live on YouTube without someone like PlaceIT. They offer custom YouTube Banners, Avatars, YouTube Video Intros and YouTube End Screen Templates that are easy to edit with simple click, upload wizard to help you make amazing professional graphics in minutes.
Best of all, some of their templates are FREE! or you can pay a small fee if you want to go for their slightly more premium designs (pst – I always used the free ones).
5. StoryBlocks helps me add amazing video b-roll cutaways
I mainly make tutorials and talking head videos.
And in this modern world this can be a little boring if you don’t see something funky every once in a while.
I try with overlays, jump cuts and being funny but my secret weapon is b-roll overlay content.
I can talk about skydiving, food, money, kids, cats – ANYTHING I WANT – with a quick search on the StoryBlocks website I can find a great looking clip to overlay on my videos, keeping them entertained and watching for longer.
They have a wide library of videos, graphics, images and even a video maker tool and it wont break the bank with plans starting from as little as £8.25 ($9) per month.