SALT LAKE CITY — Most people would never consider sneaking their family into a movie theater, but a recent Business Insider poll found 14 percent of people admitted to streaming unlicensed content.
Streaming site Watch 32 became popular in Utah last fall when people discovered you could watch "Frozen" online for free while it was still in theaters.
A concerned mother wrote KSL, "Watch 32 is all the rage in my neighborhood, but I'm not sure about the law."
The site posts a disclaimer that says it is legal because Watch 32 only contains links to other sites, but attorney John Stringham, who specializes in intellectual property rights at Salt Lake City law firm Workman Nydegger, told KSL that disclaimer does not make it legal. "Anytime you see a site where [the movie] is stil in theaters ... and you are getting it for free, 99 percent of the time it's illegal."
When you download even part of a file, it counts as a copy, and providing a link is considered a violation of distribution rights.
Stringham said there was a case in Utah a few years ago where the court ruled copyright infringement had occurred. "So [the defendant] thought they would be cute and did a bunch of hyperlinks on their site and had other people put it up, and the court slammed them again, saying you know you are still committing infringement. You are telling people where to go."
Hollywood recently went after Watch 32 and other streaming sites in a British court and won, but it is difficult to get these sites blocked in the U.S.
Website analyzer Hupso said Watch 32's server is located in Germany.
The way I view it, people in the UK are watching them legally online, therefore I should be able to, even if an ocean away.
–Online blogger, A Golden Afternoon
What about those shows you can watch for free on television and you just want to watch ahead of schedule? The blogger of A Golden Afternoon posted step-by-step directions for watching "Downton Abbey" with this disclaimer:
"The way I view it, people in the UK are watching them legally online, therefore I should be able to, even if an ocean away."
Stringham said that argument would lose in court. "The fact that I can get it from the U.K. doesn't mean I'm not violating the copyright laws."
PBS owns the U.S. distribution rights and they are cracking down. KSL talked to a Utah blogger who received a notice informing her PBS would pursue all legal actions available if she did not remove the links immediately.
It’s a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and up to one year in jail to upload or stream without permission.
There is a bill pending in Congress that would make unauthorized movie-streaming a felony for the person hosting the file.
The law is not the only thing people need to worry about when using sketchy streaming sites. When you download a movie you might give a thief access to your identity.
"The moment I am streaming to your computer, I have total access to your computer," explained Stringham, "and that to me is the bigger danger, not to mention the viruses."