If you Google watch movies online, you’ll see the unending pages of sites promising immediate downloads of thousands of TV channels and Hollywood blockbuster movies. Unfortunately, many of these sites are much more interested in getting your money than in giving you what you’re looking for. So to stay out of trouble, it’s important to understand what’s legal, what’s illegal, and what’s an outright scam.

The one time fee for unlimited movies or internet TV: SCAM

Hundreds of websites advertise, “free unlimited movies”, or “free internet TV” for a one time price of $39.95. These sites often do not have any actual video content as that would be illegal. These sites don’t own the rights to the content; doing so would cause them to get shut down. Instead if you read the fine print, you’ll find that what they’re really selling you is a video player software download, which is likely free elsewhere and not what you were looking to purchase. The website will then give you links to other websites, which may or may not have the content you want, outside of the US – not to mention that many of those sites contain content which is illegal to distribute and may get you into trouble with authorities. In addition, many of our users have reported that these types of downloads have installed spyware and viruses on top of not providing the movies or shows for which they were looking. Examples of these situations can be read in the reviews of sites such as Moviesdatacenter and Tvonpc.

 

Bittorrent file sharing: free and legal IF you follow the rules

Many people have heard of Bittorrent but are often unsure of exactly what it does or how it relates to watching videos online. Bittorrent is a peer-to-peer protocol that allows people to share files, including movies and TV shows. Sitejabber users have given positive reviews to sites such as Vuze – an application which applies the Bittorrent protocol to enable file sharing. Through applications like Vuze, it’s possible to download many types of legal content—documents, uncopyrighted videos, etc. However, many people also use these applications to share pirated content, an illegal practice we do not support or recommend. Not only can you be held liable for downloading illegally copyrighted material, but downloads may also contain embedded computer viruses and spyware (Vuze “premium” claims to offer antivirus protection but it’s unclear how well this works).

Video sharing: free and legal IF you follow the rules

YouTube is the clear leader in video sharing; you can feel confident that anything you watch on YouTube is probably perfectly legal because Google (YouTube’s owner) has all but eliminated illegal copyrighted material. In so doing, however, Google opened the door for businesses such as Megavideo—a site based in Hong Kong with a much higher bar for removing copyrighted material. Megavideo, according to Alexa, is the 102nd most popular site in the world due in no small part to the ability of users to watch copyrighted material online without downloading it to their computer or installing malware infested video players. Uploading copyrighted content to Megavideo (assuming you don’t own the copyright) is definitely illegal in the US. However, the legality of watching copyrighted content on Megavideo is a bit murkier. It’s unclear if there is legal risk, and we are certainly not lawyers, but we can’t recommend it. In the long run, if sites such as Megavideo persist outside of US copyright laws and allow anyone to view Hollywood movies and TV shows for free, we do wonder how much longer it will be profitable to keep producing all of our favorite shows.

Sites with Hollywood deals: legal but you must pay

Sites such as Hulu, Netflix and even Amazon all offer unlimited viewing of mainstream TV shows and movies for a monthly fee (although Hulu does offer a great deal of free TV and movie content). These sites all have deals with major studios and offer premium content in high-quality digital video. The selection of video content will likely never be as vast as sites that are of questionable legality. However, you can rest assured that you won’t break any US copyright laws, your computer won’t contract any viruses, and you’ll be supporting the development of future movies and TV shows, while likely viewing much higher quality content.

Have you had related experiences watching and downloading TV shows and movies? If so we’d love to hear about them in the comments; and as always be sure to review good sites and report fraudulent ones for the Sitejabber community.

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