There is no question that TV and movie streaming have now become two of the most favourite diversions of online users. In fact, in the United States alone, it was found out that during peak hours, Netflix, which is a very popular on-demand streaming media provider, is responsible for up to 40 percent of Web traffic in some places. It was also found out that more people now prefer TV and movie streaming over downloading large files of such media content which, for so many years, has been the most convenient way of getting movies on the Internet. Why? Because video streaming consumes less time and will not eat up a large memory space on your computer.
The Legal Aspects of TV and Movie Streaming
The Internet is currently saturated with TV and free movie streaming websites that offer both free and paid services – some are legal, while some others are not. Thankfully, a fairly good number of movie enthusiasts turn to legal service providers such as Netflix and Hulu. The reason for these people turning to legal websites is actually very enlightening: why not pay film writers, directors, and producers their dues and risk breaking intellectual property laws if you can stream TV shows and movies for a modest amount and watch them uninterruptedly? If only for the fact that Netflix accounts for some 40 percent of Internet traffic in the U.S., we can safely conclude that some legitimate streaming media providers are successful in their own right.
Could you be fined for illegally streaming movies or TV shows?
Unfortunately, not all people are willing to pay a small fee for subscription services such as Netflix and Hulu, among others. Some users do not deliberately violate intellectual property laws. More often than not, they simply are not aware that what they’re doing is already supportive of a crime. Apparently, many others blatantly ignore copyright laws. A lot of people upload, download, and stream TV shows and movies online without any care for the creative minds that invented the product. This is really quite disturbing, especially that there are more illegitimate TV and movie streaming websites that operate on the Internet.
The problem with online streaming is the fact that its legality is debatable. Who is actually guilty of copyright infringement – is it the website owner who uploads copyrighted materials, the viewer, or both? The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has established a special interest on film piracy on the Internet. Obviously, it has gone out of control and they know that the government must do something about it. But, before we dig deeper into the legal issues clouding online streaming, let’s first have a quick look on what intellectual property is, specifically copyright.
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An intellectual property law provides legal protection to film writers, directors, producers, etc. who own a certain intellectual asset. Under this law, copyrights are provided with a bundle of rights so that others can be prevented from copying or counterfeiting other people’s intellectual property. In the United States, as well as in the other countries that signed the international copyright treaties at the Berne Convention, protection of copyright is automatic. And since it is automatic, intellectual property owners become legally protected right away even though they have not yet registered in the U.S. Copyright Office. This type of intellectual property law states that once an idea has materialized (into a movie, TV show, etc.), the copyright owner is entitled to enforce his rights.
It is quite interesting that despite a copyright owner’s right to enforce his or her legal rights, why is it that most of them allow illegal TV and movie streaming of their creations? Why is it possible then for others to go to illegitimate video content streaming websites and find so many TV shows and movies? Well, there are some cases when they do actually ask such websites to remove videos that have been uploaded without their permission. However, many companies also see this as a convenient way to market their works, so they simply let it go. With that said, can you actually blame those people who upload copyrighted materials on the Web? What about the online users who stream TV shows and movies of media content websites for free?
In one statement made by Sen. Amy Jean Klobuchar, she said that the problem is not about individuals or families streaming TV shows and movies at home but instead, it’s about those criminals streaming millions of dollars worth of stolen and pirated digital content and profiting from it. She further said that people who earn profit from copyrighted content can be penalized and be sent to prison (and stay there for up to five years) when it involves 10 or more instances of streaming over an 180-day period. Thanks to the Commercial Felony Streaming Act because now, it is recognized that profiting from digital content theft via streaming is just as illegal as digital content theft via downloading.
This statement by the female senator may be short, but it says a lot about the law. It also answers our question if viewers at home are guilty of a crime. Well, apparently they are not. This is good news for those who stream TV shows and movies within the atmosphere of their living space. Whether or not they support cyber criminal is up to them. But, for those who use and earn from copyrighted materials on the Web, they better think twice, especially now that illegal streaming of content for financial gain is considered a crime and is punishable by law.