Is military footage in the public domain

Media war

The ideas and images that the viewer has of war are - depending on the medium used - each other.

The invasion of the Allied war troops on June 6th, 1944 in Normandy is one of the most frequently reported war events in the media. The victorious crackdown on Nazi rule in Europe began on the day, also known as D-Day. It forms the content of many different media products. (& copy Public Domain, Robert F. Sargant / U.S. Navy)

Today we can dispose of a multitude of media. Each medium has its own design and staging options and depicts reality in different ways. The respective media forms differ in terms of what they reflect of reality and in their effect on the viewer. Therefore it makes a difference whether you read a text about a war event, look at a picture or watch a film about it.

Written text

The written text is apparently the most sober form of conveying information. However, one should not underestimate the effect of words. A text can partly describe the feeling or the mood of a war event more realistically than television images. - A leaflet can encourage activity and resistance. Your own imagination creates images in your head while reading, which can have a stronger effect than the given moving image.

In war, texts primarily have the function of reporting current events on the war, for example in the newspaper or on the Internet. In addition to traditional mass media, online users can now access alternative information, eyewitness reports and opinions via war blogs, Twitter messages or Internet magazines, often in connection with pictures and films. These can contradict or supplement the official war reporting.

Another important function of texts and other written certificates is documentation. Personal descriptions of war, for example in the form of letters or in e-mails, can give the reader a direct impression of an individual's experience of war and their interpretation of the events of the war. The war becomes understandable in this way, even if you have never experienced a war yourself.


The picture shows Robert Capa's (1913–1954) photograph of a soldier on 06.06.1944 on Omaha Beach in the exhibition "Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century" in London. (& copy AP)
A photo can show reality, even if only a picture, a part of it. For example, looking into the face of a victim can make the horror of war clear to the viewer. The individual moment is then possibly more intense than the longer observation with the camera. With a single picture, however, the effect depends on what the viewer knows about the situation that is being shown. Apart from a momentary impression, he receives no information.

During the war, photography is mainly used to document events. Since photographs have a high level of credibility due to their resemblance to reality, they can also be used to influence people's perception of war: for example, by showing images of military technology and the everyday life of soldiers in the war, but hiding the painful deaths a smooth picture of the war can be spread to the benefit of those who wage war.

Conversely, however, photography can also fulfill an important function as evidence. It offers the opportunity to make the public aware of the suffering and crimes of war. An example of this was the Abu Ghraib scandal in the Iraq war in 2003: pictures of torture by US soldiers were unintentionally made public and exposed abuses in Iraqi prisons. It should be noted, however, that analog and digital photographs can be manipulated and forged more easily than any other original document.

Audio documents

Original sound recordings seem to transport the listener to the scene of the action. As when reading a text, the generated ideas and images arise only in the listener's imagination. In addition, a spoken text offers the possibility of emphasis compared to the written text: By speaking loudly and quietly, quickly and slowly, the listener's feelings can be addressed and strong concern can be triggered. This results in great possibilities for influencing a spoken text.

In connection with the war, original sound recordings and radio reports are primarily used for information and clarification. During the Second World War, for example, British and Russian broadcasters broadcast counter-information about the Nazi terror regime on German radio frequencies. Listening to such enemy radio stations was prohibited under the penalty of death. In addition, the radio is often used for propaganda purposes during the war. One-sided or incorrect information is intended to influence the population in their behavior and thinking in the desired way.

Original film recordings

Original recordings of war events are more vivid than written and spoken texts. They are most commonly encountered today in the form of historical documentaries, on news broadcasts or on the Internet. The use of original recordings gives the impression that what is depicted happened that way. As in the case of feature films, however, individual scenes can also be selected, cut together or specially staged for the recording in order to suggest a certain perspective on what is happening. A spoken commentary can also interpret the recordings for the viewer and influence the perception of the scenes shown.

The history films by the well-known television historian Guido Knopp delight an audience of millions and are reviled by critics as convenient "package tours into the Nazi past". They believe that this mixture of documentary and entertainment makes audiences lose their sense of the past. (& copy ZDF)

During the First and Second World Wars, original recordings of the war events were shown as part of cinema films or "newsreels". Weekly newsreels were reports produced anew every week, in a sense the forerunners of television news. They have been shown before movies since 1909.

For the first time, the audience was given an insight into what was happening at the front without having to experience it for themselves. Original recordings are still an important part of war reporting today. Due to the spread of digital recording technology, its production is no longer restricted to journalists. Amateurs can also record war events and broadcast them over the Internet or make them available to news channels.

Modern history documentaries about the war also often use original film recordings. Most of the time, they not only want to convey the story to the viewer in a "realistic" way, but above all in an exciting way and use a variety of staging techniques for this. For example, film material and still images from the Second World War are combined and supplemented by interviews with contemporary witnesses.

Occasionally, scenes are also re-enacted. The decisive role in creating the mood is played by the fast editing and the music. History is not always directly falsified, but in the foreground of such documentaries is the successful staging and not the claim to a comprehensive and neutral explanation: the viewer should rather experience emotions like in a feature film.

motion pictures

Saving Private Ryan (& copy DreamWorks / Paramount / Amblin Entertainment / Mutual Film)

The film "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) is considered an extremely realistic representation of the war. This applies in particular to the almost half-hour opening sequence that shows the Allied landing in Normandy on 06.06.1944. Numerous acoustic and visual computer effects are intended to give the viewer the impression that they are in the middle of the battle.

Colored moving images in modern feature films, combined with digital sound, can bring events, drama and tension, happiness, laughter and sadness closer to the viewer in an intense way. The most important senses, hearing and seeing, are fully used, so that the person barely perceives the surrounding reality. He needs all his attention to take in the cinematic information. There is little room for your own fantasies or critical reflection.

Like no other medium, the feature film can convey the feeling of experiencing the war events first hand. When watching a film about the war, many viewers have the feeling: "That's how it must have been!" Thus, feature films represent an important source for the individual as well as collective notion of war events. It is often overlooked that a feature film is only an interpretation of the war and ultimately reflects the filmmaker's perspective on the event. In addition, the action in the feature film primarily follows dramaturgical principles, the realistic depiction of historical events only plays a subordinate role.

Film scholar Lothar Mikos on the relationship between war film and the reality of war. (& copy 2006, Federal Agency for Civic Education)
In the case of feature films that deal with war, two forms can be distinguished. On the one hand, those who only use the war as a backdrop against which a hero or love story takes place. On the other hand, feature films in which the descriptions of certain war events are at the center of the action. The latter are often divided into war films and anti-war films. The former advocate war as a means of conflict resolution, the latter reject it. The perception of whether a film that deals with war is a war or anti-war film also depends on the viewer and his perception of what is portrayed.


The documentary "White Ravens - Nightmare Chechnya" (2005) accompanies the two young Russian soldiers Petja and Kiril over an observation period of three years. The film makes it clear to the viewer what terrible consequences the war can have for the individual. (& copy zero film)
In contrast to feature films, documentaries have a higher level of credibility for many viewers, because you can see and hear that it happened that way. It is more difficult to contradict real images - unlike acted film scenes. They convince with what they show, comparable to original film recordings in news programs. However, documentary recordings can also be posed and manipulated.

Documentaries about the war try to bring the reality of the war closer to the viewer and to show its effects and backgrounds. However, every documentary film is inevitably also fiction: the director can only offer an excerpt of reality chosen by himself, which he then reassembles at his editing table according to his view of reality. A one hundred percent factual, objective presentation is not possible, especially in retrospect. However, the documentary is able to produce at least an "authentic" look at the effects of the war. For example, through the consistent perspective of a contemporary witness, the experience of war can be experienced, even without the use of images.

computer game

The picture shows a scene from the computer war game "Company of Heroes" (2006). Image: Company of Heroes, © THQ (& copy THQ)
Detailed graphics and realistic sound effects make computer games appear very realistic today. Because the player plays an active role, he is usually heavily involved in the plot. Computer war games like to give the impression that the "real" war can be replayed. However, they hide many aspects of the real war and therefore only appear "realistic" at first glance.

The war is the perfect setting for a computer game. Many games in recent years were based on real wars. The Second World War in particular provides a popular scenario. But computer war games - just like all other games - should first and foremost entertain, they should be exciting, create a sense of achievement and be fun. This can only happen if reality is extremely simplified. For this reason, the games play down the entire war situation. War games represent only that part of the war that is suitable for the game. These are the conflict between opposing parties, the tactics as well as the weapons, the uniforms, the military vehicles and theaters of war.

The event war is reduced in military simulations to worthwhile campaigns or conquests and "good" decisions. There are only heroes and enemies. The opponent is defeated by clean tactical actions. In war shooters, the mere act of killing dominates. Computer war games cannot and do not want to depict the unimaginable suffering, grief and horror of war. For example, ways of peaceful conflict resolution, complex historical contexts, economic and political backgrounds, perspectives of the opposing side or the causes and consequences of war are hidden.