Can I Stream TV Shows and Not Go to Jail?

Have you ever tried to search for a full movie on YouTube back when you were in middle school? How about googling “blank show”, “episode blank” and hoping to find a somewhat low quality version of that TV show that Netflix doesn’t have? Hypothetically speaking if you did do these things some of your favorite sites were, projectfreetv, putlocker, megavideo and so on. Sure you feel a little dirty clicking through so many unnecessary ads and every time you find the episode you’re looking for on a site you don’t recognize you pray to a higher power that you don’t get a virus. But hey, it’s not your fault Netflix’s contract with CBS expired and now you can’t finish season 3 of Scrubs via your paid subscription.

Despite monopolizing the streaming industry the truth of the matter is Netflix can’t do it all. Someone somewhere is going to want to watch a show or movie that Netflix either does not support or no longer supports due to contract expirations and lack of renewals due to low user viewing. Therefore, there is market demand for alternatives in television streaming. Today we have Amazon Prime, Hulu and HBO Go and a market research study done by Nielson earlier this year shows that 30% of American households today are subscribed to one streaming video service. Of them only 10% are subscribed to two services and only 2.6% are subscribed to three. As the survey suggests few people who already pay for a service are inclined to pay for another one let alone a third, and so now we have a market of streamers who want to enjoy on demand content without having to pay for it.

Unavailability of content and refusal to pay more for another streaming subscription are the backbone reasons why there is a market for unlicensed streaming content. A study done by Business Insider and Survey Monkey shows that these reasons are indeed the primary drivers.

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Now the question becomes, is streaming unlicensed content online illegal?

No.

Jim Gibson, director of the Intellectual Property Institute at the University of Richmond law school and others argue that accessing and streaming unlicensed content is generally legal. Although downloading and or distributing unlicensed media content is illegal. Now how do host sites such as Putlocker and Megavideo getaway with hording so much unlicensed content and not get prosecuted? The site must be able to pass “the inducement rule”. A test created in a 2005 Supreme Court Ruling stating that a company or website can only be held accountable for distributing unlicensed content if it clearly encourages users to infringe a copyright. Gibson further explains,

“It does very much depend on the marketing and the uses [these sites] are encouraging …. You know, GM can make a car. You can use it as a getaway car in a bank robbery, or you can use it to get work. So we don’t say that GM is on the hook just because it provides a technology that can be used illegally,” Gibson said. The same goes for streaming websites.”

These sites are simply providing a technology for their user base and so there is nothing wrong in the eyes of the law for a user to use a website as intended.

Streaming unlicensed content is neither illegal here in the U.S or in Europe, on June 5th 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that streaming illegal content online is legal in Europe.

“EU copyright exemptions for temporary copies applies to viewing and streaming online. Viewing or streaming, the court says, is different to making a copy and would be exempt from copyright laws, but the copies “must be temporary, that they must be transient or incidental in nature and that they must constitute an integral and essential part of a technological process” , as reported by digital-digest.com

Crawling the web in search for that one movie or TV show your subscriber does not offer is indeed legal but highly not advisable. Most of these sites have pop ads after pop up ads that not only ruin the viewing experience but also could cause a virus to be downloaded to your computer. On top of this the quality of the content will always be stripped down and you can never guarantee you will be able watch the entire stream due to potential errors in the upload.

Stream with caution and just remember downloading is definitely illegal.

 

 

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11 Responses to Can I Stream TV Shows and Not Go to Jail?

  1. Nicholas Sibilia November 15, 2015 at 11:26 pm #

    I found this article very interesting, because it is a popular topic in today’s world. Many people of all different ages use the internet to watch TV, especially considering with sites like netflix its often joked that you spend more time looking for a movie than actually watching one. I had often wondered if you could get in trouble from streaming sites such as the ones discussed here; with all the popups and virus possibilities it seems as if they are illegal or underground websites. The points specified and the comparison descriptions such as the GM reference were very well thought out and help enhance the overall quality and delivery of this article. In association with this the chart specified on why people stream unlicensed content helped to open new thoughts as to why i do it myself to begin with. Overall, I thought this article was very well written and well thought out.

  2. Zack G November 16, 2015 at 2:19 am #

    Stream a TV show and go to jail for it? I think not. In this day in age and in the past few years a vast majority of individuals mostly in the teens and early 20’s seem to find most of their TV shows and movies online with a search of a button. In addition a large percentage of music lovers download their music off the web without paying. Some may call it illegal, I call it clever. In my opinion streaming videos, tv shows, movies or music should not be considered illegal unless following the action that is then sold as a product for profit. Essentially my exception is if data gotten online is used for personal use and not sold off for profit, I think it is acceptable. Jim Gibson made an excellent comparison that I strong hardly agree with as far as streaming websites and their accountability. Streaming sites with unlicensed content are just a host for the content, and should not be prosecuted because they are not encouraging people to go out and copyright or marketing themselves as something they have to do. For the example, where GM makes a car and that car is used in a robbery or bad act that wouldn’t be GM fault they just provided a product. This was a good comparison in relations to this topic, which really made me think outside the box. In addition when streaming these shows, movies or music you’re not always getting the best quality and whenever you do such acts you open up you’re platform for potential viruses. So paying for any of this or calling it illegal is somewhat irrelevant when the quality is sometimes nowhere near good. Lastly, take a site such as Hulu or Netflix which don’t have ever movie or show you’re looking for what else is next to do? Having a couple friends over, gf/bf whichever it may be, sometimes these unlicensed streaming sites are last resort and have that movie that you’ve been dying to see but don’t have the time to go out and see or available on the streaming licensed site that you’ve payed for.

  3. Linda L November 25, 2015 at 9:55 am #

    This website is interesting. When I was younger and downloaded movies off a site, I would get warning from my internet provider notifying me that they have had an illegal downloads coming from a sight. I was a warning but they said if I continue to download, expect legal action. From that point on I turned my wifi off and found other sites. Cable subscriptions are costly and everyone wants to cut corners to save a few dollars. I don’t think one should go to jail for such actions. Most of these downloads are being done by the younger generation and would be a shame to ruin one’s records for downloading a movie. If you know that action is illegal one should be prepared to stand up to their consequences if they occur for copyright infringement. It should also be noted if one was doing it for their pleasure or selling and duplicating the movies are a different matter and should be handled differently as well

  4. Ryan Hardrove November 25, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

    I found this article very interesting, because it is a popular topic in today’s world. Many people of all different ages use the internet to watch TV, especially sites like Netflix. It’s often joked that you spend more time looking for a movie than actually watching one, I think there is some truth to that, I had often wondered if you could get in trouble from streaming sites such as the ones discussed here; with all the popups and virus possibilities it seems as if they are illegal or underground websites, which is why using illegal websites to watch a movie or TV show is dangerous because it could infect your computer. The points specified and the comparison descriptions such as the GM reference were very well thought out and help enhance the overall quality and delivery of this article. I think a lot of people stream movies or TV shows illegal because people like to watch things that are free and not pay for a product that could be bad, nobody wants to waste money seeing a bad movie, and also people like to be in the comfort of their own home and not deal with people at a movie theater. Some movies are made to be in theaters and some are not, the point I make is I think streaming movies or TV can be wrong because the company that is making movies or TV is losing money because of the illegal website that leaks a movie or TV show out.

  5. Lauren Gutowski November 25, 2015 at 8:53 pm #

    It’s funny how Mike brought up contracting a virus on your computer/phone when downloading movies and such. I remember a few friends and I decided to go on a sketchy website and download Fast and Furious 7 on my roommate’s computer while it was still in theaters. Everything went fine and dandy until her computer would not even turn on the next day. Technology makes it easier for people to avoid the laws. It is in human natures to recognize opportunities, ethical or not, and take advantage of them if there is a very low chance of getting caught. We do not hear of many people being prosecuted for downloading movies or shows off the web really. Netflix has a decent selection but not good enough to prevent its users from turning to the computer and livestreaming exactly what they want. These websites are legal partially because they are not marketing themselves in a “hey, copy write this material I uploaded” way. So “the court says, is different to making a copy and would be exempt from copyright laws, but the copies “must be temporary, that they must be transient or incidental in nature and that they must constitute an integral and essential part of a technological process” No matter what the courts say, there is clearly a loophole within this law. I mean I was able to view a movie that was still in theaters, I saved twelve bucks on a movie. I pretty much robbed twelve bucks from the movie studio and the theater. Doesn’t it sound a bit ironic that it is legal to stream illegal content on the internet? Just because they sites do not promote the illegal activity does not discard it from being against the law. We all know the activity is illegal but of course the statue permits it based upon their portrayed motives. I found the graph interesting because the most common reason for streaming movies and such is because “I can’t find what I’m looking for on a licensed site” but the category “Other” was second to the other three reasons I thought were more popular. I honestly have no idea what falls into the “Other” category. I expected “I don’t want to pay for a licensed version” to be a definite second. If companies like Netflix and Hulu are able to license for movies viewers want, then “legal” streaming will experience a decrease.

  6. Edward Vestergaard December 9, 2016 at 1:00 pm #

    Being the cheap-ass I am, I’d rather risk downloading a virus onto my computer than rent a movie. Let me explain. Although Netflix is great, it doesn’t have every major show or blockbuster movie at its disposal because that would be expensive. So what happens when I want to watch a movie or show that Netflix doesn’t have? I then have two options, either to legally rent the show/movie from a legitimate site or take my chances with a sketchy site that may or may not infect my computer with a virus. In hindsight, it would be better to do the right thing and spend the few dollars it costs to watch, as a virus could be an $800 mistake in a blink of an eye. However, I prefer to be optimistic whenever I take a chance on pirating, thus believing everything will be dandy whence I click that giant red “download.” Largely it’s been hit or miss since I saw Used Cars without issue but nearly suffered a heart attack when six pop-ups appeared within a second after downloading Interstellar. As author Mike Gavela describes, people are not inclined to pay more than they have to if there’s a backdoor; however, most are smart enough to realize that other streaming websites including Amazon Prime, Hulu and HBO Go have what they seek…if they’re willing to pay for it.

    A typical Netflix subscription will run you $9 a month for unlimited streaming. As a subscriber myself, I’m pretty satisfied with Netflix’s selection because it spans a wide range of TV shows and documentaries. Therefore, I’ve never been inclined to pay for the aforementioned alternatives until the announcement of the Grand Tour. In case you haven’t been the following British automotive scene, the successful show Top Gear was disbanded when Jeremy Clarkson assaulted a set member. Consequently, BBC, the broadcasting network, fired Clarkson and offered the two remaining presenters, James May and Richard Hammond, a replacement host. Both refused and left BBC with Clarkson, walking straight into Amazon.com’s embrace. The online-retailer giant offered the trio its own show, and within a year The Grand Tour was born. Needless to say I was ecstatic for the new show’s arrival, but wasn’t happy about having to pay for Amazon Prime. After reasoning that the $60 annual fee would be well worth it, I apologized to my wallet and subscribed. Despite paying over $100 a year to keep myself entertained, streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime are absolute musts for college and beyond.

    Gavela makes a point to distinguish between the legality of streaming and downloading of unlicensed content. Whereas streaming is considering legal, downloading and distributing unlicensed content is illegal. Further, Gavela asks a great question regarding how “Putlocker and Megavideo getaway with hording so much unlicensed content and not get prosecuted” (Gavela). The answer comes from a 2005 court case: provided that the site doesn’t encourage users to infringe a copyright, they’re in the clear. Although this ruling pisses of the creative owners losing out of profit, “the inducement rule” makes sense. Putlocker and Megavideo are just providing a technology that users can use (that on its own isn’t illegal), but it’s up to the user to use the technology responsibly and refrain from downloading. Although I’ve matured since my days of playing that Russian-roulette-esque game which threatened ruin with every click, I’m not certain that I won’t relive those heart-thumping times to stream a movie that costs $3.95 on Optimum…you know, for the hell of it.

  7. Justin Scherzo December 9, 2016 at 1:51 pm #

    I think that almost everyone has streamed an online movie or TV show from an illegal source. I have serval “reliable” sources that I use in order to stream TV shows. Sure it is annoying to click through the ads and sometimes the streaming is spotty but there is no money coming out of my pocket, and that makes me happy. Since then I have also downloaded ad block which makes it easier to get straight to the content. Eventually, I got sick of these websites and decided to try Netflix. That being said Netflix has a free trial for a month, which I have used on many different occasions. The conditions of the free month is that it cannot be on the same email account or same credit card. I got around this by using every different email and credit card my family had to get the free month. I ended up using the free trial for about a year and eventually went back to these outside websites.
    This article speaks about the ability of online streaming from third party sources and not being punished for it. Jim Gibson, director of Intellectual Property at the University of Richmond law school made a very good analogy saying, “It does very much depend on the marketing and the uses [these sites] are encouraging …. You know, GM can make a car. You can use it as a getaway car in a bank robbery, or you can use it to get work. So we don’t say that GM is on the hook just because it provides a technology that can be used illegally,” Gibson said. The same goes for streaming websites.” This explains it to the exact tee of what it is like when you stream video content from an “illegal” website. The article also goes on to say that streaming unlicensed content is legal both in the United States and in Europe. The article writes, “EU copyright exemptions for temporary copies applies to viewing and streaming online. Viewing or streaming, the court says, is different to making a copy and would be exempt from copyright laws, but the copies “must be temporary, that they must be transient or incidental in nature and that they must constitute an integral and essential part of a technological process” , as reported by digital-digest.com.”
    My overall reaction to this is that unlicensed streaming should not be illegal. If I miss an episode of “The Walking Dead” I do not want to have to wait for a few months for Netflix to have the content when I could just go to my unlicensed website and watch it a few hours later. If the company that creates the show or movie wants to go out of their way to not allow these websites to use their content, so be it, but otherwise I would like to continue to watch my TV shows in peace.

  8. Jason Salazar December 9, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

    Before reading this blog is did not know it was not illegal to stream shows or movie from and online source. Like the blog said people have Netflix and Hulu and much more but sometimes there are just shows that are not on there. What else can people do? You can go online and find a free stream of the show there. Before I had Netflix I did this all the time, I was actually scared that I was doing something illegal and could possibly be fined for it. I took the chance anyways. Even when I have Netflix I still want to watch other things that are not on it. Sometimes it gets annoying that you pay for Netflix and they do not even have all the shows you want to see. That is what leads me to go online and find a show I can stream. The article made it clear that you cannot be fined for streaming the videos online. The only way you can is if it is downloaded to your device. Jim Gibson, director of Intellectual Property at the University law School said that is really depended on the “marketing and the uses are encouraging…” He took an example of the car company GM. “You know, GM can make a car. You can use it as a getaway car in a bank robbery, or you can use it to get work. So we don’t say that GM is on the hook just because it provides a technology that can be used illegally,” Gibson said. The same goes for streaming websites.” He clearly is stating that people can do illegal things with things or items that are not illegal. That does not mean they should be banned or fined. I like the comparison between the two because it is very clear on how to see it with streaming videos. Streaming illegal content online is legal in Europe and was made legal just a few years ago on June 5th of 2014. I actually am relieved that it is not illegal and am glad I read about this. Now it is just one less thing I don’t have to worry about. The only problem with the streaming of videos is that it can harm my device. I need to keep my devices safe so I try to go on the sites that are recommended to me by friends. Unfortunately, I know of a friend who got a virus from one of these sites and does not want to go back on any of it. I was sure to protect my laptop at all times because I know these viruses can destroy your computer. In 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that a company or website can only be held accountable for distributing unlicensed content, which means that anyone that goes on the sites will not be punished unless they download the video they are trying to watch. This blog informed me of many news I did not know of till now and I am glad I read this. Now I can finally stream all I want and not think I can get punished for it.

  9. Javon Diggs December 9, 2016 at 7:41 pm #

    This post hit right at home with me. In today’s age of digital technology, online video services such as YouTube and Netflix are almost necessary for online entertainment. However, also prominent in today’s age is copyright. It seems no matter how much credit you give to the original creators, or how much you edit the clip in order to try to differentiate the clip so you won’t get hit with a copyright claim and then be sued, somehow, someway, these companies manage to successfully take down any type of videos published about them that they were not aware of. I understand wanting to protect your brand and making sure that nobody takes credit for your creation, but let’s be realistic, how much money will a person make from posting the Terminator film on their YouTube account? Everybody knows he didn’t create the film, so how could he possibly profit off of it?

    I can provide a perfect example of this problem. Just the other day, I went to visit my friend in New York for the weekend, and was going to be unable to watch the first half of the Giants and Steelers game that was on that Sunday. Thankfully, I searched for it on YouTube and found that somebody had actually posted a live stream of the game available for everybody to watch. At first, everything seemed great, until at the end of the first quarter when I refreshed the page, and was unable to watch the stream anymore because of a copyright claim by the NFL. Seriously, everybody knows that the user does not own the NFL, and he’s not making any money off the stream, he’s just posting it for those who aren’t able to catch the game on TV and can’t afford the ridiculous prices the NFL requires to stream games.

    To be fair, I can understand where the companies are coming from to an extent. It is their content, and they have the right to do so as they please with it. in addition, you want to make sure that nobody can just steal your work, take credit for it, and then to top it all off, make a profit off of something that they did not create. That is wrong, and I will admit that. However, sometimes they do go way to far with it. It is understandable if you had just created a game, but then someone else takes the file, uploads it as their own and then profits off of it. However, when they explicitly state that the content being posted is not theirs, give full credit to the creator, and are not making any profit whatsoever, there’s no need to take down everything and ruin entertainment for all of your fans.

    Online video services are everywhere these days, and they are not going to go away. However, it’s ironic, because these companies have become so greedy that they are inadvertently actually hurting their reputation by being copyright warriors. Everybody knows that a regular user could not create a two hour, $500 million film with amazing special effects that stars Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Angelina Jolie. It’s just some small entertainment for fans of the product that cannot afford the ridiculous prices charged to view the product otherwise. As the old saying goes: no harm, no foul? Fans should be able to stream in peace, instead of worrying about having their account taken down and then possibly being sued just for trying to help others out.

  10. Matthew Multer December 9, 2016 at 8:34 pm #

    This blog post describes my whole life. Streaming is shows, streaming live TV, streaming live sporting events is what I live off of. We have no cable in my apartment. My roommate and I decided that it was unnecessary to have. Why pay for it when we can virtually watch all the same shows on cable, online for free? From my experience the whole semester, it’s been efficient. I always used to watch TV last year in my dorm and do homework and sometimes I was not as productive as I needed to be. Without the option of cable I think it might have benefitted me.
    This article specifically caught my attention for that reason. I have streamed so many things off of so many sketchy websites and I never even considered if it was illegal or not. I just have that teenage attitude that every parent scolds them about, “Oh no way will I ever get caught.” Kind of like the Limewire days of downloading free music. I think that’s everyone’s attitude when streaming or illegally downloading something online. So many people do it, how are they going to zoom in on you that one tiny person from wherever you are. But beside the point this article tells the truth. Not everything is on Netflix and since you can’t get something like the movie Goodfellas on it you have to find another source.
    I never thought about streaming as a huge market as the article pointed out. When I take a step back and after reading this I can completely see how HUGE of a market online streaming is. The statistics say enough, 30% have one streaming service, 10% have two and then some people like to stream so much that they have a third one. 2.6 percent to be exact. Netlfix, Hulu and HBO Go are probably the big three but why pay for them when you can stream for free?
    Not only can you stream for free, you have no risk of getting arrested. You can’t go to jail because streaming shows online is one hundred percent legal. Streaming is completely cool. But what can get you in trouble is when you download or distribute unlicensed material. This is where the article peaked my interest. I use Putlocker on the daily. Pretty much every day I am on there watching some show I can’t get on Netflix. How do they get away with distributing material? The explanation in here is perfect, and help me understand the inducement rule. “It does very much depend on the marketing and the uses [these sites] are encouraging …. You know, GM can make a car. You can use it as a getaway car in a bank robbery, or you can use it to get work. So we don’t say that GM is on the hook just because it provides a technology that can be used illegally,” Gibson said. The same goes for streaming websites.”
    With that being said, I’ll continue to stream my heart away, not download and continue enjoying my shows.

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