The Right Footage

Stock and Archive Footage: What’s the Difference?


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We’ve all encountered stock footage whether in advertisements, or even in documentary films: ready-made footage that is used by a creator to illustrate part of a narrative or to create a certain aesthetic. However, though archive footage technically serves the same role, there are some fundamental differences between stock and archive footage that are important when trying to understand pricing, and the rights required to use the footage.

In other words, when producing a program for film or television, when am I searching for “stock,” and when is it seeking out “archive footage?” 

One way to think about the difference in stock and archive is to consider the origin of the material and to understand its significance and status at the time it is used in a production. Thought it might be unfair to the artists who filmed it to call stock footage ‘generic,’ most stock footage was filmed with the purpose of allowing one or many different productions to use the footage for whatever purpose they see fit. It bears cultural and aesthetic significance in that it illustrates something of a particular culture at a particular time. For instance an artist who shoots footage of food being prepared with the intention of creating a library of footage available for use by advertisers in the food and beverage industry, filmmakers working on a documentary about a certain cuisine, or others, is producing stock.

Though stock footage is for the most part shot with a commercial application in mind – being sold for either commercial or editorial use – it is not always sold and used under the same conditions, and pricing varies greatly depending on the artist, the sales agent, the quality of the material, and often, the resolution. Today, more and more stock is sold under a royalty-free agreement that allows the buyer to use the footage over and over again for a multitude of uses; and for others to purchase the same footage to do the same. Sometimes stock footage will be bought exclusively, but this is increasingly rare for many buyers – especially for digital use, as the amount of content advertisers need to produce online is massive and cost is an issue. Only the very top-end of stock footage is licensed using the type of licensing agreement used by productions to use copyrighted material from other third parties.

Though initially stock footage, in time this footage will become archive footage. But what makes archive footage different than stock? First of all, footage filmed in the past or used to speak of the past is nearly always referred to as archive. However, another way to look at archive footage is also to look at the intention with which it was shot. Was it shot to document a particular event or moment in history? All news footage meets this criteria, but even amateur vacation films and concert recordings also fall under this category. This leads to the impossible question, “when does the past begin?” News footage shot yesterday for a news broadcast, is now archive footage when used to speak of the events it depicts or the news coverage it was a part of. Archive footage always has a purpose and a raison d’etre of its own – beyond its eventual use in another production, beyond the sale of a license to use the material, and regardless of the contemporary status of the footage in question.


Footage initially meant to promote a model of car produced by Ford in the 1980s is archive footage. Stock footage of a woman wearing sunglasses and driving a convertible in 1995, because of its relationship to time and is use to illustrate the past or speak of the past, is also archive footage. Newsreels produced by Gaumont Pathé in the early 20th century are clearly archive footage, but so is news footage of the war in Syria shot in 2015.

To put it briefly, archive footage is unique and powerful not only because of what it shows or imprint left on it by time, but also by the intention and circumstances that led to it being filmed.


Are you a content creator looking for unique footage? Make a footage request on Archive Valley to connect with archives around the world ! 🎞 🎬🌎

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