Ask LH: Am I Breaking The Law By Viewing Streaming Fileshare Sites?

Ask LH: Am I Breaking The Law By Viewing Streaming Fileshare Sites?

Hey Lifehacker, What’s the legal status of viewing movies and TV shows that link to either streaming versions of torrents or content that wasn’t uploaded by the creator? Will I be busted for doing that? Thanks, Islands In The Stream

TV picture from Shutterstock

Dear IITS,

Technically I suspect that you are, but I’ve got to couch that around the general caveat that I’m about as much of a lawyer as Lionel Hutz is.

Strictly speaking, however, the providers of those kinds of services don’t specifically have rights to the content that they’re offering up, and in most cases the full on legal weight is brought to bear on the providing services rather than the end users per se. That’s where the heavy legal stick is brought to bear, but it’s not an exclusive arrangement in actual law. Technically speaking because the stream has to be assembled into some form to be viewable, it could (and I suspect probably would, if it came to it) count as an infringing copy as the law is written, and you’re not allowed to make an infringing copy.

The recent Dallas Buyers Club LLC decision is an interesting insight into this kind of issue. While the case wasn’t involved with streaming sites per se, the judge in that case did take a fairly dim general view around small scale infringements in relation to portions of a torrent file, so it wouldn’t take much of a stretch for a judge to view viewing an illicit stream in the same way, especially if it were obvious that the stream was an infringing copy. Equally, while they’ve talked down from the kinds of “speculative invoicing” that was a big part of their strategy overseas, it’s clear that Dallas Buyers Club LLC is still broadly interested in getting recompense from identified pirates, and that’s still to be resolved in terms of absolute payments. It’s not a huge leap to see the DBC case as a precedent if a film’s LLC or production house decided to chase a specific streaming site and its users.

Getting into more specific law, The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 is looking to block access to sites that offer infringing copies of content. Bypass that, and there’d be another specific part of law you might be breaking. Again, this in legal theory, rather than hard world example, because in Australia to date the pirates that have been specifically busted have tended to be originators of infringing copies.

On a practical note, while it’s not a hard and fast absolute, there’s also a certain amount of revenue raising from some streaming sites that revolves around malware, dodgy “video viewing” plugins and the like, and that could be an entirely different world of hurt to walk into. So whatever the legal status, it may not be a wise choice.


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  • You are distributing an infringing copy if you torrent because you are constantly uploading.

    With a streaming site, you are only a viewer of a video stream that someone else has put there.

    Using Kodi (formally XBMC) video add-ons will remove all the malware/dodgy ads/plugins risk from using these streaming sites and in the case where you have bought an “fully loaded” android box from ebay that has XBMC pre loaded and everything ready to go, you are even further in the dark as to what is “legit” add-on content and what is not.

    I’m not a lawyer either, but nobody anywhere in the world has been prosecuted from visiting a streaming site (or owning a “fully loaded” android set top box)

  • Streaming via Kodi is the latest fad amongst people I know. I think because programs and films just appear on their television and aren’t quite so obviously being downloaded they think it’s a legit alternative to services like Netflix.

    I’m not a lawyer either, but I’m pretty sure if you’re getting something for free that wasn’t meant to be free, you’re getting it illegally. You might be able to argue it from a legal point of view – “I didn’t “download” nuthin’, your honour” – but morally I don’t think you have much of a case. “Well, yes, I did watch it, your honour”.

  • Streaming is still downloading. The content may not be permanently stored but at some point, but the data for an entire copy was at some point on that computer.

    The prosecutor would most likely argue around “intent”. Even though the data wasn’t retained, it was still deliberately accessed without obtaining a valid licence.

  • How would they ever prove a person viewed a specific film, though? It’s not like torrents where they can monitor it. Unless they have malware on the streaming site (which I’m pretty sure would be inadmissable) or the streaming site keeps records of what IP address views which content and there is a warrant granted to obtain the records (which I’m pretty sure the streaming sites would not bother about in the slightest), you’re home free.

  • Well guys I’m form Germany and I’m just here to visit my Uncle. In Germany I was streaming movies (for free) like every day … Then I bought Neflix, and streaming got less. But Netflix does not have every movie or series. So yes, I keep on streaming sometimes. I never got prosecuted because of that. Its a grey area in Germany. The law says its illegal to upload such stuff. If you are downloading especially with a torrent, you are permanently uploading at the same time. So yes thats illegal, but if you are streaming you are not uploading so it should be not illegal (but also not legal). It’s not defined in law. In Germany the rules concerning copyright are very strict. I know about people downloading once a movie and they had to pay. Something like that never happened to me, but I was only streaming. I’m no Australian, but I think it should be similar here. And as I can read from this link for the UK goes the same.

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