Can I get caught streaming movie videos over the internet?

UT ME2 Productions | Utah ME2 Settlement Letters Sent by Todd Zenger

Streaming movies via bittorrent is illegal, and you can get sued for copyright infringement if you are caught streaming movies.  Apps such as Popcorn Time use bittorrent to stream movies to its viewers, so these users can get caught.  Currently, it is difficult to get caught streaming movies via a YouTube-like “tube” site because there is currently no easy way to monitor traffic to these sites.

BACKGROUND: I started writing an answer to the question of “Who cares if I was ‘seen’ downloading?  Doesn’t everyone use bittorrent anyway? Why is this illegal?” in the ME2 Productions Lawsuit Q&A article posted last night.

In answering, I got onto a really interesting tangent of how governments use child pornography, sex traffickers, and terrorists as an excuse to violate your rights against unlawful search and seizure (your right to use a VPN, to stay anonymous, to encrypt your phone, to encrypt your hard drive, etc.).  This should be an article of its own, but in writing that article, I stumbled into the “can I get caught streaming movies” topic, so enjoy the article.

Streaming movies via bittorrent is the newest way to get caught.

IS IT ILLEGAL TO STREAM COPYRIGHTED VIDEOS? DOES COPYRIGHT LAW APPLY TO DOWNLOADING, UPLOADING, SEEDING, OR STREAMING MOVIES OVER THE INTERNET?

Answer: Copyright holders are very protective over the WAY in which people view their copyrighted content.  The law gives them a number of exclusive rights (which means that they can legally sue and destroy the financial futures of anyone who violate and/or infringe those rights).  

Of those exclusive rights (the right to make copies (download), the right to distribute copies (share/upload), and the right to display (streaming movies).

If any of these are copyright rights are infringed, they get antsy because each violation of these rights stops them from being able to monetize [make money from] the movie, or ‘work’ that they created.

Even issues such as whether a particular movie is played on this TV network or that TV network, or whether it is sold in this store or that store, or whether and how it is released on to DVD for rental purposes (and whether the copyright holder will allow their movie to be streamed on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video) — all of these considerations are called ‘considerations of licensing’ which are the ‘rights’ or ‘property’ of the copyright holder.

How bittorrent is said to infringe the exclusive rights of the copyright holder.

Downloading a copyrighted video on bittorrent apparently violates the copyright owner’s exclusive right to make copies.  

Seeding or uploading a video on the bittorrent network violates that copyright owner’s exclusive right to distribute copies.  

They would even argue that getting caught streaming movies without a license violates that copyright holder’s exclusive right to display the copyrighted video, so even watching a video which is streamed on some ‘tube’ website arguably comprises copyright infringement.

The movie lobbyists have manipulated politicians to increase damages over and over, likely through bribery and filling the pockets of these politicians with contributions to their election funds, and the like.  It’s a greedy process, and the only person screwed is the end user who clicks on a video link, watches that streamed movie, gets caught streaming the copyrighted movie, and gets sued.

But ‘Everyone Does It.’

So you see, it does not matter whether ‘everyone does it.’  

Bottom line, movie companies over the last seven years have figured out a way to sue ISP internet subscribers individually for the infringement of their copyrighted movies.  

This means that the movie companies (or the ‘copyright troll’ companies who license the rights to sue for the infringement of these rights) have figured out a way to apply the nasty $150,000 statutory damages fine to the end user who clicks on a bittorrent link and opts to download or stream that movie.

[Statutory damages means that if you did it, you are ‘guilty’, akin to a buzzer going off or guns being shot when someone steps passed a patrolled red line].

EVERYONE DOES IT. BUT CAN I GET CAUGHT STREAMING MOVIES? CAN I GET SUED? FINED? PUT IN JAIL?

Originally (back when I was in law school), nobody tracked the bittorrent networks, and so people could share files readily without worrying about getting ‘caught’ (akin to the current state of technology where you can go on YouTube, or some abstract piracy website (e.g., Putlocker).

You could also use some piece of software (e.g., Kodi) and sometimes view full-length versions of copyrighted films. However, at the time, the mechanism to get ‘caught’ was not yet in place.  

The reason for this is because copyright holders are not yet taking the time to subpoena the web analytics to determine which IP addresses visited which specific pages showing which specific copyrighted movie was viewed or streamed without a license.  Even if they did, many of the webmasters are out of the US anyway, so good luck finding out who they really are, and good luck pulling them into court.

How criminal copyright statutes are being used against bittorrent websites.

(This is an ongoing fight where the creators of The Pirate Bay, Kim Dotcom / the MEGA.co.na site, Putlocker, and a number of other bittorrent site owners are being arrested in their home countries, and the US government is trying to extradite them into the US. The goal of the governments is so that these individuals can be charged with the criminal side of the copyright laws here in the US.  

In short, the political power of the movie companies is strong, and they have governments as their servants. This is a fight that has touched you with your copyright infringement lawsuit, but nobody is bringing you to jail over it.  

Copyright infringement lawsuits are civil, which means the copyright holder is merely suing for money damages ($150,000) as a remedy for the infringement.)

HOW GOVERNMENTS USE CHILD PORNOGRAPHY, SEX TRAFFICKING, AND THREATS OF TERRORISM TO TAKE AWAY OUR CIVIL RIGHTS.

Just because it is currently difficult to get caught streaming movies because the website owners are outside of the U.S. (or because the technology to do so is not yet in place).

This is not to say that the government isn’t TRYING to find a way to force these sites to keep logs of their internet traffic. It also does not mean that they are not TRYING to find a way to put a lock-and-key on the internet itself with a ‘Universal Internet ID’ or some tracking device forced upon you like shackles.  

If US citizens don’t remain vigilant, governments (including our own) will put these shackles on you, and every website you visit will be monitored and logged, AND THEY WILL DO THIS BY CLAIMING THAT THEY WANT TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS AND THE RIGHTS OF CHILDREN.

This is their sneaky way of getting you to give up your rights.  

Governments will use something as nasty, disgusting, horrible, and decrepit as child pornography, sex trafficking, or even terrorism, and they will claim that in order to fight this, they must lock down EVERYONE’s internet in order to fight these horrible activities.  

Because nobody wants to be on the side of the guy with child porn on his computer (this is almost ALWAYS the circumstance when the government wants to advance some horrible law, they choose some person to charge with a crime and advance THAT CASE through the courts to the US Supreme Court, and as a result of the horribleness of that selected POS defendant…), nobody speaks up in his defense.

Nobody wants to defend a child porn defendant because of the stigma associated with it, and so governments pass laws taking away your rights to privacy and anonymity claiming that they are doing it to protect children against this guy.  [This is why almost all case law which advances some great concept usually has some nasty, horrible person as the defendant who ends up being protected from his crime (or not)].

ACTUAL LAWSUITS HAPPENING ABOUT RIGHTS AGAINST FORCED DECRYPTION OF YOUR CELL PHONE AND ENCRYPTED HARD DRIVES

This is actually happening now as we speak — not with the issue of internet privacy and forcing a universal internet ID on internet users, but with the argument of whether a court can force someone charged with a crime to disclose the password of his phone, or whether they can force a defendant to decrypt an encrypted hard drive.  

The sneaky thing is that they are using some guy caught with child porn on his encrypted drive to force the law making it okay for governments to force its citizens to give up its rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

And, other governments are passing laws making it illegal to run VPN services “because child pornographers and sex traffickers use these devices in order to further their criminal activities.”  

So because some terrorist uses an encrypted chat, or because some child porn defendant encrypts his hard drive, now I need to strip naked and show the world exactly which websites I am visiting, who I speak to, what I buy, what doctor I visit, and all my secrets??  No thank you.  

Governments should leave its’ law abiding citizens alone and not punish us because some sicko uses the same privacy mechanism to mask his nasty crime.

ANSWER: STREAMING MOVIES IS [LIKELY] ILLEGAL, BUT AT THE MOMENT YOU CAN’T GET CAUGHT STREAMING MOVIES (YET).

In short, for the moment, getting caught streaming movies via a ‘tube’ website, or via some obscure out-of-the-US-based website will violate copyright law. But, there is a very low likelihood that you’ll get caught streaming movies or sued for streaming in general.  

This will change in the future, and governments will likely continue to infringe on your rights against unlawful search and seizure (even to the point that they might make it illegal to use a VPN service).

For now, valid activist groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and activist attorneys such as myself and a number of others still hold governments back from growing in power and authority to the point that ‘the boot of the government crushes the skull of its citizen.’


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

    NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

    Can I get caught viewing streamed Tube-like videos?

    pcap-file-image

    Last month, I wrote an article entitled, “Whether internet porn viewers ‘should expect viewing histories to be made public.”  The fear that prompted that article was that someone could hack into the logs of a porn-streaming website, and with that information, expose the porn viewing habits of millions of Americans.  The conclusion of that article was that it would be difficult for a hacker to hack into a website which streams adult content, steal the website’s logs containing the IP addresses of those who have viewed the web pages which stream the videos, and then somehow correlate that IP address list with the actual identities of the internet users.  Thus, I do not expect to see any Ashley Madison hacks for websites streaming copyrighted content anytime soon.

    4/5/2017 UPDATE: Okay, this is another way to get caught.

    Can I be sued for viewing adult content on a YouTube-like website?

    The next question people asked was, “can I be sued for viewing copyrighted content on a YouTube-like site?”  In short, the answer is yes, you can be sued, but it will likely never happen.  Here’s why:

    POINT #1: A COPYRIGHT HOLDER WOULD LIKELY NOT BE ABLE TO OBTAIN THE IP ADDRESSES OF THOSE WHO VIEWED THE WEBSITE STREAMING THE CONTENT.

    While a hacker would likely be able to obtain the IP address records from a pornography website’s analytics through theft, a copyright enforcement company such as CEG-TEK or RightsCorp would be unable to get this information without 1) a court order, or 2) the cooperation of the adult website itself.  The reason for this is that 1) porn website owners are notoriously outside the U.S., and thus, they are outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. federal courts.  The copyright holders could try suing the website owners, but this is often a difficult task (finding an elusive website owner outside the U.S. is a much more difficult task than suing internet users who participate in a bittorrent swarm to obtain files using BitTorrent).

    While the analytics companies could be sued and forced to disclose the list of IP addresses for a particular website, this is also an unlikely scenario because complying with such a court order directing them to turn over records for one of their clients’ websites could be 1) illegal, and 2) it could put them in jeopardy of being sued by their customer.  So this is not a likely outcome.

    Couldn’t the copyright holders provide a financial incentive to the Tube website owners to reveal the IP addresses of their visitors?

    Secondly, the copyright holders could “join forces” with the website owners to participate in the financial earnings of going after the downloaders (alternatively, they could be outright paid to disclose this information), but again, doing so would put the websites own visitors (their own customers) in financial jeopardy, and thus they would likely not participate in such a scheme.

    In short, it is unlikely that a copyright holder would be able to obtain this needed list of IP addresses of those who viewed certain copyrighted content, and thus, with a streaming site, the copyright holders would likely not be able to learn who you are.

    Pornhub has been ordered to expose copyright infringers

    [4/5/2017 UPDATE: When I wrote this article, I never expected a federal judge to order a Tube-site to reveal the identity of its users.  Today, a California federal judge judge did just that.  So in the context of this article, the financial ‘incentive’ that I considered a few years ago ended up being the force of a court order signed by a federal judge.  

    As described in the TorrentFreak article, Pornhub has been forced to provide the names, e-mail addresses, IP addresses, and other data exposing the identity of uploaders of pirated videos.  These are not downloaders and they likely have accounts, which violates the rule I mentioned in 2015:  “Users who create accounts on Tube Pages are at high risk of being exposed.”]

    Why you should use a VPN at all times.

    NOTE: It is still advisable to use a VPN when accessing a site streaming content, because your own ISP could be monitoring your web viewing habits, and they ARE in the U.S., and they could be sued and/or pressured to hand over “evidence” that your account visited a particular web page at a certain date and time.  It is unlikely this would ever happen, but it is best to err on the side of caution.

    POINT #2: ALL LAWSUITS TO DATE HAVE BEEN FOR BITTORRENT ACTIVITY.  I HAVE NEVER (YET) SEEN A LAWSUIT SUING SOMEONE WHO VIEWED A PARTICULAR VIDEO ON A PARTICULAR WEBSITE.

    To date [and as far as I am aware], all of the copyright infringement lawsuits filed in the U.S. District Courts (the federal courts) across the U.S. have been for BITTORRENT ACTIVITY.

    With very few exceptions where the copyright holder identified and sued the UPLOADER (the one who POSTED the video onto the website) based on a watermark or secret code embedded into the copyrighted video that identified the accused infringer as being the one who disseminated the copyrighted materials, there has never been a “John Doe” bittorrent lawsuit against a downloader who got caught by viewing content streamed on a YouTube-like website.  This is not to say that there will not be one in the future based on future internet fingerprint IDs forced upon internet users by government entities, or the like.

    There are too many steps to obtain visitor information by force from the website owners.

    Copyright holders have not yet and likely will never go through the initial step of 1) suing the website owner to obtain the list of IP addresses, and for this reason, I have not seen and do not foresee seeing lawsuits filed against internet users who view copyrighted content using a YouTube-like streaming service.

    Laws can change, Technology can make surveillance convenient.

    This is not to suggest or encourage that someone use this medium of viewing copyrighted films as technology can change, laws can change, and as the courts loosen their long-arm jurisdiction against foreign corporations and entities (weakening the Asahi case), the United States might start asserting its jurisdictions over foreign countries or foreign entities or corporations, and they might start forcing an internet fingerprint ID on the citizenry to track each citizen’s internet usage.  The takeaway, however, is that it is a lot harder to sue someone for viewing streamed content rather than suing someone for downloading content via bittorrent.

    EXCEPTION: Users who create accounts on Tube Pages are at high risk of being exposed.

    An obvious exception to this article are those who have created accounts using their real identity or contact information, either 1) to participate or comment on forums or in the comment sections of the websites, or 2) those who pay a monthly or annual membership to access the premium content (e.g., faster speeds, unlimited content, etc.).  If you have an account on a website which streams content, then YES, your identity is at risk, and your viewing habits could be exposed for the world to see.  Otherwise, likely not.


    CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

      NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

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