Downloading movies for free using peer-to-peer networks like Limewire, or BitTorrent is often seen as illegal, as these infringe on the publisher’s copyright. While peer-to-peer companies usually give a legal argument that watching movies for free is not a copyright infringement, the movie industry has been known to litigate notable users of these file-sharing websites. These people include users who knowingly download movies illegally, and even users who don’t have an idea of movie downloads (most of the time, these users’ networks were likely unsecured, and neighbors used their resources to download files).
Still, there are a handful of online services that let users download movies for free. To avoid legal issues—which often come with hefty fees and costs—you should know what constitutes legal and illegal, as defined by law.
- Use websites that have established partnerships with movie studios. Or, visit movie studio websites themselves, such as sony.com and paramount.com. These studios sometimes offer digital downloads for free, although these are mostly trailers and sneak peeks. You can also find legal content from studio channels on YouTube, Yahoo! And MySpace. Most of the time, these are supported by advertising, and most are geo-located so you can only access the videos from certain countries.
- Use your media player to watch films. The apple iPod supports video playback on many of its models, such as the Classic, the iPod Touch and the previous Nano. You can download movies from iTunes for a small fee, and these will usually be playable both on your computer and on your iPod.
- Join video sites like Netflix, which allow legal downloads of movies and television shows through streaming or downloads. The website comes with a $7.99 per month subscription, though. What’s great is that you can also get DVDs by mail for an additional $2 per month. You can also stream Netflix content on your DVR or Apple TV, or a supporting game console, like the Xbox 360, Wii and PS3.
- Look for independent producers. Some indie film producers and directors will release their movies on the Internet before these are sold to studios for broader theater distribution. Such is considered a word-of mouth marketing activity, and some movies were actually successful because of this. Some notable examples include 2009’s Paranormal Activity and 1999’s Blair Witch Project.
- Get in touch with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) at mpaa.org if you have concerns about copyright. While the association maintains that video sharing of copyrighted material is illegal, there are moves to adopt different business models that will let sharing of content profitable as well as marketable. Still, the MPAA’s current stand is quite strict with enforcing copyright laws.
Note that illegal downloading of videos will incur a penalty under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. Violators are usually punished based on the number of violations and the willfulness of doing the act. Therefore, avoid downloading movies illegally, and stick to legal download methods like Netflix, studio websites and iTunes.