The Prelinger Archives is a collection of films relating to U.S. cultural history, the evolution of the American landscape, everyday life, and social history. It was physically located in New York City from 1982 to 2002 and is now in San Francisco.
The Archives were founded by Rick Prelinger in 1982 in order to preserve what he calls "ephemeral" films: films sponsored by corporations and organizations, educational films, and amateur and home movies. Typically, ephemeral films were produced to fulfill specific purposes at specific times, and many exist today only by chance or accident. About 65% of the Archive's holdings are in the public domain because their copyrights have expired, or because they were U.S. productions that were published without proper copyright notice.
The stated goal of the Prelinger Archives is to "collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that haven't been collected elsewhere".
By 2001, it had acquired 60,000 completed films of varying lengths and over 30,000 cans of unedited film. In 2002, the Library of Congress acquired the physical films held in the Archives as of that date; the Archives made two subsequent donations to Library of Congress totalling some 65,000 cans of film, primarily industrial and educational titles. As of spring 2015, the Archives holds about 8,000 films in videotape and digital form, approximately 14,000 home movies, and 1,000 industrial and sponsored films acquired since 2002.
Compared to many other moving-image archives, Prelinger Archives provides a relatively high level of public access to its collections. Over 6,400 public domain films are available for download and unrestricted reuse on the Internet at the Internet Archive. All the films in the archives can be licensed for production use through Getty Images.
Prelinger Archives currently focuses principally on collecting home movies and amateur film from North America.
- Audio: Richard and Megan Prelinger interview at KQED-FM (NPR) (1 hour)
- Prelinger, Rick (2006), The Field Guide to Sponsored Films, San Francisco, California: National Film Preservation Foundation, retrieved 6 February 2011
- Ephemeral Films by Rick Prelinger on Vimeo
- EPHEMERA: The Prelinger Archives (March 2013 Edition) on Vimeo