Two decades ago, when obtaining and consuming digital content via the Internet was a mere twinkle in most people’s eyes, knowledge of copyright law was strictly the domain of the experts.
Today the landscape has been transformed. With file-sharing, streaming and downloading now something carried out by millions of Internet users, not to mention the masses who upload content to YouTube and social media every day, most people now have at least a rudimentary grip on what behavior could lead them into trouble.
On the fringes, however, are activities that at first view may seem borderline acceptable, often because they seem relatively reasonable, even if some require a little creative thinking. The questions/statements below regularly appear on discussion forums when people are trying to carve themselves a safe niche under the law. As we will see, solid ground can be difficult to come by.
Movies and TV Shows
Is it legal to stream pirated movies and TV shows as long as I’m not sharing them using torrents?
The confusion here seems to have its roots in differing mechanisms of delivery and distribution. When it comes to streaming, a permanent copy of a movie or TV show isn’t stored on the users’ machine, neither is it uploaded to other users. With torrents, on the other hand, a permanent copy is stored and also distributed to people sharing the same content.
What we know, particularly given the thousands of copyright troll lawsuits around the world, is that downloading and sharing copyrighted content using BitTorrent is definitely illegal. What we also know is that in the EU, following a ruling from the area’s highest court, is that it is categorically illegal to stream unlicensed content from an unlicensed source.
While some may choose to split hairs and try to predict what may or may not happen in courts elsewhere in the future, it seems extremely unlikely that streaming pirated content from a source that is unlicensed by rightsholders could ever be seen as legal.
That said, tracking people who only stream movies and TV shows from third-party sources is fraught with difficulty so while it is probably illegal in any country with robust copyright laws, doing so anywhere is far less risky than using torrents.
I subscribe to Netflix and can download a copy of a movie/TV show from there. Can I legally download a copy from the Internet to keep?
Having a subscription to Netflix allows the user to do all the things that Netflix allows under the terms of the subscription. This includes watching movies and TV shows on the Netflix platform for the duration of the customer’s contract. It does not extend to any other activity, including obtaining the content from anywhere else via streaming, torrents or downloads.
Videogames and Software
I buy videogames legally but hate DRM including Denuvo. If I own the original, can I legally download a cracked copy from the Internet as well?
While there can always be exceptions depending on the terms of the purchase, in most instances ‘owning’ a copy of a game does not necessarily mean that people actually own it. What they have obtained is a license to use and play that game within the specific terms of that license. Those terms never state that it’s permissible to download a DRM-free version from a pirate site.
I own a game on Xbox, can I legally download a copy for Playstation and/or PC too?
This is again covered by the licensing issue detailed above. When people obtain a copy of a game for Xbox or any other platform, the license that comes with the title governing how it can be used is unlikely to allow people to download a pirate copy for another system. If in an exceptional circumstance it did, that would be made very clear and in that case only, obtaining a secondary copy would be entirely legal.
However, it would be extremely unlikely for a games company to instruct people to obtain that copy from a pirate source which in itself would be unlicensed to distribute. In any event, that would probably involve torrents or file-hosting sites offering cracked, aka illegal copies, something that companies never openly tolerate.
As I already bought Windows 10 for another computer, is it ok to download a cracked copy for use on another computer?
Yet again, this is an issue of licensing. When using Windows 10 or indeed any other software, people need a license to use that software. In the event that the license covers usage of the software on a single machine, obtaining another copy from elsewhere and using it on another machine would not be covered. Regardless of where the copy was obtained, a second or in some cases enhanced license is generally required.
I want to test a piece of software before buying it. Is it legal to obtain a cracked copy as long as I delete it after seven days if it doesn’t suit me?
This is one of those urban myths that has persisted since the early days of ‘warez’ (pirate software), where piracy groups provided cracked copies on the basis they should be used for a limited period and then deleted if unsuitable.
While in some instances people are allowed to make backups of software they have legitimately acquired, copyright law doesn’t have a ‘trial’ clause which permits people to break the law for a limited period and then get off the hook later providing they do the ‘right thing’.
While many downloaders still obtain cracked software on this ‘for-testing’ basis, they would be much better off checking out the legitimate provider to see if they already offer this thing of service – many do.
Conclusion: If it Sounds Piratey, It Probably Is
By their very nature, laws are usually complex and limited to geographical areas. As a result, someone, somewhere will probably dig out their interpretation of local law in order to justify why some or indeed all of the above points are entirely legal or in a ‘gray area’ where they live. That being said, most questions usually have clues in their titles.
So, if someone is asking if it’s legal to download a pirated and cracked game from a pirate site without paying the people who made it, they probably haven’t thought it through. Or, more commonly, are just trying to see if they can get the necessary wiggle-room and authorization to go ahead and do it anyway.
Many thanks to TorrentFreak for the breaking news.