Is Online Television Legal?

Within the last several years, websites that offer streaming video have taken a very large portion of the market for video content taken in by American consumers, mostly including young adults and teenagers. Sites like Google Video, YouTube, and countless other entertainment sites started by featuring short videos with humorous content, but quickly morphed into fully functional entertainment mediums. It is now possible, for instance to watch some feature length movies in their entirety on Google Video. Users are encouraged to upload videos to a site for others to enjoy, rate, and comment on.

Unfortunately, some users miss the point of user determined content, and upload copyrighted material. While this is against the terms of use agreement for many of these video sites, copyrighted content such as television shows (either in their entirety or clips of them) are regularly available for viewing. Because of the sheer size of the sites involved and the number of files uploaded daily, monitoring and censoring every single video that is uploaded is impossible. At one point in time, anyone could go to one of these sites and effectively watch television on their computer. This, of course, is illegal. Most sites rely on other users to report copyrighted videos. Sometimes, though if there is demand for a certain show or movie, the copyright holder will allow it to be uploaded, but only by them, and they will embed paid advertisements, so at least they are getting some kind of reimbursement for their content.

Luckily for some fans of online video, several television studios have caught on to this growing trend among Internet users. Some of the major networks and even a few cable networks are allowing their content to be displayed for free online, with advertisements either embedded in the video itself or displayed prominently on the web site itself. This has allowed fans of certain shows to see the episodes they like when they want to see them. The major studios have decided that it is better to spend the money to get the material out there through legitimate channels than waste resources tracking down every single person that has ever uploaded their content to the Internet. The added bonus of driving traffic to their website where paid advertisements are displayed just adds to the benefit to the studio.

Some websites are even created with the express intention on offering television shows, past and present, online for free. Sites like Hulu.com and Beelinetv.com offer users archived shows a well as some live streaming content. These sites and those like it usually offer the shows with minimal commercial interruption, and pay a fee to the copyright owners for the privilege of showing the content. Some sites are even beginning to build up their feature length movie content and are offering some pretty current and popular movies. Television shows are also offered usually a week or so past their original air date to help the networks continue to promote their traditional television presence.

So, is online television legal? Five years ago, perhaps the answer would have been a resounding no, but now, with television companies willing to open up their libraries for a small fee, the miracle of television is now available 24/7 for free on the Internet.

Have a great day!

Lawrence