WHO OWNS THE COPYRIGHT?
I want to be clear: I own the only analog copy of the films you watch on this website, but I’m not the owner of the copyright of the footage. The original filmmaker is the owner, even if his reels were sold to me by his heirs. Regardless of my big effort to give the owner a name, this person most of the times remains unknown and there’s no way to find him.
It’s nearly impossible to have the copyright of a home movie. The analog copies of the films are usually sold when the filmmaker dies. Even if you know who created the film, to acquire the copyright of the footage you need to have the signatures of all his sons/grandsons/heirs, because home movies footage copyright is not something that is thought to have a commercial value, so usually it is not part of the inheritance agreement.
I don’t know if there are other archives granting you that they own the full copyright of other historical footage shot by amateur directors, but before you think you can use their content 100% safely, ask them if a single signature is enough to protect you from a claim of ownership.
There are also archives made of historical footage created by professional productions: when the footage you buy from them shows people, to use the content it is not enough to have a document signed by the copyright holder, but you also need the signatures of all the people filmed (or to check if originally those people agreed to give the production the right to re-sell the footage).
I’m a stock footage producer with thousands of sales on Pond5 and Shutterstock, so let me tell you one thing: when you buy contemporary content on micro stock agencies with the editorial use only license, I hope you don’t think you’re 100% risk free to use it if there are recognizable people who didn’t sign a model release.
I SAVE HISTORY
I have a Youtube Channel with more than 1 milion views. My footage shows how the real world was many years ago. No filters, no censorship and no professional crews: just a tourist filming cities and people living their normal live. Without my effort to digitalize, restore and publish the films in my online collection an important part of the history of humans will be lost forever. Is it illegal what I am doing?
It is so unlikely that the re-use of such footage would be noticed or challenged by someone, as I trim out all the private shootings. Even without the legal copyright, you can use my footage under the Fair Use rights without any risk.
WHY DO YOU HAVE TO PAY A FEE?
I charge a fee for the restoration and digitalization of the footage which involves hours of work and expensive equipments.