It seems so easy to do, and is so accessible, that to most people it would not seem illegal. If it is available on a website, how can it be a crime? But, remember… it is.
Lately, our regular, law abiding friends have been excitedly talking about how a current movie that is still in theaters is available online by clicking on a link. We cannot stress enough that this is a federal crime. Remember when you rent a movie and the first thing that comes up is the green FBI warning? That tells you what you need to know and it applies whether the movie you are watching warns you of it or not.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. A free movie that you've been dying to see from the comfort of your home? Too good to be true. Do not follow that link.
The fact is, someone has probably violated copyright and licensing law by making that movie available to you outside the theater. And, you are highly traceable and identifiable. When you click on the link, the computer you are on is identifiable by its IP address, and that IP address is probably registered to you, at your home or office address.
And more importantly, it is not just the individuals who post it online who are breaking the law. People who know the film is still in theaters and are downloading and watching it online are also breaking the law. Whether someone filmed the movie while watching it in the theater and posted it online, or got a copy of the movie and posted it online, they do not have the rights to do so. And by watching it, you are subject to punishment as well.
We've been seeing a shocking amount of these types of movies available online in the past month. We suspect it is because it is awards season and copies of the movies are sent to people who vote. But if we are seeing a large number of links to these movies, you know the federal agents have too. And they do investigate these things. When they find a site that is illegally showing these movies, the agents do not stop just at the individuals who posted the movie online. They go much further and look at all the IP addresses of those who also accessed the movies. And everyone can get charged.
A violation of federal law is no joke. This is not some petty misdemeanor crime in state court where you can walk out on your first court date with a slap on the wrist. This is a felony punishable by prison time and thousands and thousands of dollars. All for watching a movie for free.
With the digital age making almost everything more accessible, we feel it is important to remind people that though you may find access to things on the Internet, like these movies, that it does not mean you should access them. It may be in your best interest to pass up the free, but illegal movie, and instead watch something else.