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