Streaming movies via bittorrent is illegal, and you can get sued for copyright infringement if you are caught. 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, and 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.
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), the right to display (streaming movies), if any of these 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 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, and 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, 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), or you can use some piece of software (e.g., Kodi) and sometimes view full-length versions of copyrighted films, but the mechanism to get ‘caught’ is 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 so that they 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, and 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) 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, and it 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. And, 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 (because 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 (YET).
In short, for the moment, 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 or sued for it. 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), but 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.’
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