How To Download Movies Legally

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

When it comes to downloading movies from the Internet, most users think that they are limited to monthly subscriptions from video streaming services, using a peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing client or clicking on dubious links that promise unlimited downloads of feature films without having to pay anything. The problem with the last two options is that they are more than likely illegal and often fraught with peril for the average Internet user.

P2P clients such as Ares, uTorrent and Popcorn Time can be used to share just about any kind of digital files, but the most commonly transferred files happen to be popular films. In most cases, the copyright holders of the films have not given permission to share digital versions of their works, and thus transferring these movies over P2P networks is illegal. In the case of banner ads or links that promise free access to an online catalog of feature films available for direct download, many Internet users have been surprised with spam or malware being unwittingly installed in their desktop or portable computers.

How to Find Legal Movie Downloads

It is estimated that a small portion of movies shared on P2P networks are on the public domain, which means that they can be legally downloaded. A handful of elements determine if a movie is in the public domain and therefore common property. A film's copyright will expire after 75 years; if not extended, it enters the public domain. In other situations, the copyright holder may decide to make his or her film freely available for digital distribution, which means that it can be downloaded for free, but not necessarily shared with a third party.

Various websites are now dedicated to cataloging public domain films that can be downloaded via P2P clients. These websites can be found through Internet search.

Streaming Video Services

In the 21st century, streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix have gained popularity due to their extensive digital movie catalogs and premium television series such as Mad Men and The Sopranos. Competing services include Crackle, Amazon, Apple TV, Viewster, and others. These are all legal options for viewing online video content.

Most streaming video services charge a very reasonable subscription fee, and they may impose certain restrictions such as viewing limits and geographical locations. Hulu is notable for restricting a good portion of its content to viewers in the United States, and even American users are subjected to tons of advertising unless they agree to pay a subscription fee.

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