The Movie Waffler A Brave New World of Free Films and How to Stay Legal | The Movie Waffler

A Brave New World of Free Films and How to Stay Legal

Probably the cheapest and easiest way to watch TV and films is online.
Unlike traditional video rental the downloading, or streaming movies, offers instant access and the costs are much lower. You can rent films for a one off fee – or purchase the download to keep. There are now a huge number of sites offering both streaming and download, but this makes staying on the right side of the law a frighteningly complex issue. Obviously, if you pay for a download, or sign up to a subscription, the chances are that you’re unlikely to stream or download film movies illegally. However, there are a vast number of sites offering access to film and video content – so how do you know if what you’re viewing is legal?

Pains and Penalties

With hundreds of sites offering downloads or streaming services you may find yourself overwhelmed for choice! Not all of these sites are operating entirely within the law – although many are. If the site you use is distributing copyrighted material, it could be in breach of intellectual property laws and by using the service you become implicated. Using these services can result in a warning letter from your internet provider, or a restriction on your connection speed, or your service being blocked (in the case of persistent offenders).

What is Copyright and How Does it Relate to Films?

Copyright for works in much the same way for films, books and music but it is not always the case that the copyright holder is a single person or legal entity. This can be the case with books, and is often the case with music, but it’s particularly the case with films. Copyright protections also vary around the world and this adds to the complexity for those viewing films online; in the UK, copyright extends 70 years beyond the life of the holder and in films this can mean that rights are split between directors, screen writers and even composers (if the film features an original score).
In the US the copyright status of films is even more involved. If a film was made and exhibited before 1923, then you can safely assume that it has passed into the public domain. Anything after 1923 is subject to interpretation and the copyright laws may vary throughout jurisdictions.
Often major studios own the rights and these studios are not always subject to the copyright laws in the country in which you are viewing. In real terms, for those looking to download or stream films online, this generally means that silent and classic movies are the most commonly found free material available.

Playing Safe

For those new to viewing either TV or films online there are two sources of content that are probably the safest options; online rental services including Hulu, Netflix, Blinkbox, iTunes and Lovefilm, to name a few, offer subscription services (much like a bricks and mortar DVD rental store) and/or one-off rental/purchase fees. To find out if this type of service is for you the good news is that many offer a free period (usually around 30 days) and for those who are fanatical film viewers, staggering when you join these services can offer months of free viewing. Secondly, TV “On Demand” from national broadcasters is also a good place to find free TV and film. In the UK, the best known are BBC iPlayer, ITVPlayer and 4OD; all of these services include TV content, and also access to films. Viewing via these services offers peace of mind that you’re accessing films legally.

Even with high speed broadband connections, downloading films, free or otherwise can take some time. If your connection is slower and you want to download larger files frequently, download manager software, like, can be useful. For those new to using software like this, and to downloading film and TV content, it’s important to be clear on how to download legally and where to download from. In terms of “is it/isn’t copyright protected” the warning signs are pretty simple, if a film is still in theatre’s, it’s probably not available for download anywhere. If a TV show is currently being aired on a TV network, again, a download is likely to be illegal. Some films and media content are increasingly being released on creative commons licences and this material should, if the artist/creator/studio is attributed clearly, be fine to view or download. Searching for available films, if you can’t find them on sites that you know are legal, can be fraught. However, a good starting point is the site “Find any Film” – this comprehensive site offers an easy search facility and, importantly, helps you to find content that is both free and paid for. If you can find free films on this site it’s likely they are within the public domain and you can download direct from the site – or download via Vuze from other sources.

George Neal is a huge film fanatic – here he looks at downloading movies and content for free, legally, for those new to the art of downloading both TV and films.