I was watching FDR's Infamy Speech on Youtube which he makes after the Pearl Harbor attack, and noticed that it seems to belong to www.periscopefilm.com. You can see it at the start of the video:

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At their website sure enough the video is available for licensing, and it seems you have to pay to use it.

I found the exact same video at archive.org

I'm wondering, for it to be shown on this site, does this mean that they have bought a licence?

Also, what gives them the right to own this video and prevent anyone else using it. I assume it's not in the public domain because you have to licence it from them, but I'm confused about some things because I don't know the law.

The speech was made in 1941, it was a speech made in congress. How is it that periscope.com have the right to a filmed speech made in congress from 1941 to the exclusion of use by anyone else? This is the bit I found confusing. It's a government speech and so should be freely available? Or am I wrong?

Also, if you see the video itself, it's watermarked with periscope.com, is this video entirely their property? Where does the original video exist? Or is it because they themselves had a film crew in Congress in 1941 and filmed it themselves?

  • 1
    Periscope Films did not have a film crew in 1941 that made the footage. They are a company that obtains, preserves, and sells copies of various types of materials. Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 14:31
  • @Jason Aller Yeah I didn't think so. I wonder where they find stuff like this. I would have thought it would be public, at least something like this, one of the most famous speeches of the century, a declaration of war.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 14:43

3 Answers 3


All Government produced documents in the United States are public domain, as they belong to the people. The company may be asking for license to use their film, which may include several other clips that they put in any order. Their film, specifically, including any explanatory dialog, commentary, or editing choices, are not fair game. However, the clip you are asking about is not copyrighted and is fair for any use.

  • I found another company that sells it, called British Pathe. It's watermarked with "Copyright British Pathe", or sometimes "copyright preview only". There are no extra images images added, all the footage is of within the chamber. If what you're saying is true it makes me so angry that big companies get these public domain videos and watermark them with their logo so that no one can use them. I'm sure if I upload such a thing to Youtube for example either the content ID system will identify it as a violation or copyright owner will make a complaint.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 16:16
  • The other video is here britishpathe.com/video/…
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 16:17
  • Do they add any original dialog to the videos or is the only original thing the watermark? The original footage of that speech should be in the Library of Congress (I think) and could be tracked down to a proper US government source that is free to use.
    – hszmv
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 18:04
  • By putting a watermark in they are creating a derivative work that they own the copyright to - just as if you wrote a new translation of the Bible. They can stop you using their work but they can’t stop you using the original. They also are not obliged to give you the original.
    – Dale M
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 20:41
  • @hszmv No, they just put a watermark on it in each case. In one of them there's a time counter.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 0:50

Though President Roosevelt spoke to Congress in a formal address, film of a government speech would be a public document only if the film was shot by a government entity.

A news agency that filmed the event would both own the physical film of the event and the copyright to the use of their footage, though the story of Universal Newsreel illustrates how rights to file footage can pass through the ownership of various entities and eventually to the Library of Congress, which warns that old imagery that was provide to the LOC may or may not be covered by copyright.

In some cases, private firms may have digitized archival material to make it available for commercial re-use and while the source material may not be copyrighted, they aren't necessarily obligated to share their high-resolution versions and may charge a fee for it. (For example, the Mona Lisa is clearly out of copyright, but no one is obligated to give you their high-resolution photo of it.)

And since some materials from the Library of Congress and other government sources are publicly available, there is nothing necessarily preventing private archives from also offering copies of those materials.

  • What you say makes sense. However I think we can say that neither British Pathe nor PeriScopeFilm shot that footage, and didn't add any new footage. I don't know whether they remastered it, but let me ask you this: If someone were to take that footage of congress and do nothing other than add a watermark to it, am I infringing copyright by using their footage? Likewise, let's say they didn't add a watermark to it but decoded/encoded it to another resolution or aspect ratio, would I be infringing their copyright?
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 1:20
  • @Zebrafish That gets into a potentially sticky area of the law. If they bought or acquired the copyright to footage, they own the copyright, whether they watermark it or not. Since Periscope offers licensing rights and they charge varying rates per type of use (say, web video vs. TV clip vs. motion picture), it's likely they also police use of the footage and will send a bill and a threatening note to any infringer. Some uses can be fair use; this gets very complicated and is addressed in many better Stackexchange answers than mine. Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 3:47

The speech itself is public domain, the static recording of the speech does not seem creative enough to be eligible for copyright (threshold of originality).

Copyright notices like that are often added mindlessly: in this case, copyright probably only applies to the copyright notice itself. If they claimed copyright on the speech, it would be copyfraud; if they claimed copyright on the footage, best practice would be to attribute the crew (for potential copyrights by individuals) and give provenance info (for non-copyright concerns such as fidelity to the original).

All in all, this is 99 % likely to be a bogus claim that can and should be ignored, as done by the user who uploaded it to the Internet Archive. If it's not bogus, they'll send a DMCA takedown request and provide information to prove their claim, then it may be removed.

The video can optionally be edited to remove the watermark and copyright notice.

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