With the winter dragging on and the weather outside remaining frightful it seems that the best solution is to settle down in front of the TV with a good film to watch. Thankfully, apart from the choice on satellite, cable and terrestrial TV, there are also plenty of options offered by good old fashioned rental. But go outside in this weather? You might get washed away. However, streaming doesn’t have to mean what’s happening in the street. With the vast improvements in broadband speeds today streaming means the easiest way to watch films online. DVD rental, or purchase, has never been hugely expensive (well, not hugely) but the internet version the costs are much lower. For film fanatics a sign-up to one of the better known services offers a low cost constant supply of films and TV programmes. For less fanatical film watchers, one off rental or purchase costs are also affordable. In addition it’s also possible to watch films online for free – and perfectly legal, if you know where to look.
What is this Internet Piracy?
If you’re new to watching films online (for free or otherwise) it helps to know exactly what piracy is and how to spot it. In terms of films, videos, books and music, online piracy relates to illegally downloading to your device. In some cases this may also include streaming music and videos. In this sense illegally means without the permission of the rights holder. In the case of a film, the rights holder could be more like ‘holders’ and these people could be scattered liberally across the globe. It’s difficult enough at the best of times to get Jennifer Lopez’s phone number, never mind that of her agent, manager, studio etc. In effect, most films available on the net will be available in two ways, from a provider that has permission to distribute the film, and one that doesn’t. The ones that don’t are the ones to avoid.
Pirating Muddy Waters
There are a few small problems in the illegal download argument. File sharing, or peer-to-peer file sharing has been around for a couple of decades, this is best understood in terms of lending a DVD to a friend. There are some slightly more technical bits to it of course, not least that the film itself might come in ‘bits’ and the friends doing the lending might never have met and may, probably, be in different parts of the world. This type of downloading and distributing is not necessarily illegal in itself, but if you use a download manager like Vuze to organize your viewing, the rule is (and actively promoted by Vuze) to be sure that the content you download for free is in fact, copyright free. For those new to movie and music downloading, it may be one to avoid until you’re more familiar with both the technicalities and the legalities of downloading films and music.
Where to Start with Free Legal Downloads
So, rules and regulations dealt with, very briefly, (you can read a good guide how to spot less-than-legal downloads courtesy of Vuze here) where to get those free films?
Online film rental sites; yes, rental, which implies an exchange of funds, generally in their direction. However, the big players including Netflix, Blinkbox, Hulu, iTunes and Youtube, to mention but a few, believe that the best way to get us to part with our hard earned cash is to offer us something for free. Usually this comes in the form of a free subscription period and if you stagger each ‘free month’s trial’ carefully, you can have seemingly endless months of free viewing. You’ll need to cancel before the subscription charges kick in – unless of course you’re hooked.
TV channels across the world offer a range of free content; in the UK the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV all have a massive catalogue of programming available. In addition to their own output, you’ll find a films section on most sites, and you can watch online (or depending on rights issues) download films for later. For those wary of the pirate infested waters of the net, this is a good place to start, as the major TV channels are very careful about what they’ll let you download!
If you’re looking for more unusual, older, niche films or if you’re studying film and TV and need access to countless hours of footage, a number of specialist sites can help. The British Film Institute offers access to a massive archive – a mixture of paid and free content is available on this site. Open culture is another good (and reputable) source of free films, while for TV addicts Crackle is a site worth a view. Classic Cinema Online is a great site for free movies – for fanatics and students alike, with some of the cinematic greats of the Golden Age of Movie making available to view and download.
The best things in life may be free but it always pays to be careful of who is offering them to you. When it comes to legally downloading the simplest way to check (if you have doubts about what you’re downloading) is to do a quick online search to see if ‘issues’ have already been reported with a film, TV series or performance. While many sites do offer free, legal downloads, there are many that don’t sticking with the more reputable sites is certainly the best way to avoid falling foul of the law, or your internet provider.
Film fan George Neal looks at how to download films legally for free and the best sources for mainstream and specialist free content on the web.