The High Tech Society

Is Watching Full Movies on YouTube Illegal?  

Is Watching Full Movies on YouTube Illegal?

While most of us are at least passingly aware that streaming movies online is in the grey fringes of legality – more and more courts are deciding that streaming movies is as illegal as direct piracy. For example, in April of 2017, an EU court ruled that streaming via Kodi is as illegal as directly downloading the torrent – simply because most streaming sites download temporary files (packages) to allow viewing – and this ‘temporary’ reproduction is not exempt from copyright laws.

While that clearly defines sites like 123 movies and Yes Movies as illegal, where does it leave more ambiguous sites like YouTube? You can likely figure out that a full feature length movie on YouTube is breaking copyright law, but is it your problem if you watch it? And, is it actually illegal to watch something that someone else has distributed?

Hundreds of Full Length Movies on YouTube

A quick search of YouTube will show that not only does the site include full-length movies – there are hundreds of them, often in high-quality, and often clearly named. Why are they there if they are illegal?

YouTube actually maintains a policy of waiting for the copyright holder to submit a takedown notice before deleting a film. The site does provide extensive tools including the Content ID System, which allows the publisher to upload their content and have it automatically banned or removed on upload if it is found to be duplicate content. This system is used to producers like HBO uploading shows after airing as well as copyright holders, but many simply are not using it.

Does this mean that it’s okay to watch full length movies on YouTube? Or is it as illegal as streaming using Kodi Exodus or similar?

Copyright Infringement Falls on The Uploader

The largest part of any ‘illegality” involved with film piracy is distribution. This means that the uploader putting the film on YouTube is most certainly breaking the law. They are primarily responsible for pirating the film and will therefore face the strictest legal penalties. Should the case go to court, the uploader is almost completely liable.

However, this does extend to you in case you distribute the content. For example, the chances of you getting into legal trouble for watching a film on YouTube on your own are extremely slim. Your involvement is low enough that it doesn’t make fiscal sense for most media producers to pursue a case in court. If you start distributing, that could change. What counts as distribution? Inviting your friends over to watch a film, viewing the film outdoors where others can see it, playing the film on a computer or television located in a business.

However, it is theoretically possible that you could face legal repercussions. Luckily, it’s unlikely. A copyright holder would have to get your IP logs and request information from your ISP, and both would have to cooperate and hand over data. Neither are extremely likely and both are more expensive for the copyright holder than simply having the movie taken down.

Strick Penalties and Liability on YouTube

YouTube previously used a strict legal and liability ruling where viewers could be fined up to $750 per clip they watched. This has since been removed – as viewers may have difficulty differentiating films on their own. This process, which was known as “copytraps” potentially indemnified users by exposing them to illegal content without their consent or knowledge.

However, you could still be fined up to $750 per clip for watching a full movie – providing the publisher chooses to take you to court. The likelihood of this happening is actually extremely slim. If you can prove that you weren’t aware the film was pirated, your fee could be reduced to $200 per.

What’s the verdict? It is technically illegal to watch full movies on YouTube. You could even face penalties, some of which can be extremely high ($750 per clip adds up fast). However, the chances of it actually happening are extremely low, so if you’ve clicked on a few full-length films on YouTube, you don’t likely have to start breaking piggy banks anytime soon.

However, copyright laws are becoming more strict and some producers are pursuing penalties to set examples to try to scare people away from pirating and streaming. You could be unlucky enough to become that example. Chances are that any films and media on YouTube aren’t actually good enough quality to warrant breaking the law over them anyway, so you’re probably better off seeking out a legal subscription site like Amazon Prime or Hulu instead.