About Downloading Movies

by Stephen Lilley

As computer hard drives become larger and Internet connections become faster, piracy is becoming more and more of a problem. Piracy is defined as the act of downloading music, movies, books, or computer applications without paying for them. Though the term "downloading movies" has received a negative connotation in recent years, even from a legal standpoint it is not necessarily all that bad. There are quite a few misconceptions about using the Internet to download and watch your favorite movies.


File-sharing has been around since the advent of the Internet. It took a very short period for people to start making digital copies of movies and music and illegally share them with others using the World Wide Web. As computers became a staple of the average household, more began pirating movies instead of paying money to see them at the theater or buying the home video release. Typically when a movie is released in theaters, a copy of the movie that has been videotaped during a public screening surfaces online within hours or days, followed by more professional-looking copies in the weeks and months after. Occasionally, movies have been known to make their way to the Internet before the theatrical release occurs. Two notable big-budget releases that showed up on the Internet a full two weeks ahead of their release dates occurred in 2002 with Sony's "Spider-man" and Fox's "Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones." In recent years, certain movie studios have embraced the fact that movies will be downloaded and have begun to offer sites to legally purchase (and sometimes watch for free) copies of movies over the Internet.


The Motion Picture Association of America has long believed Internet piracy to be killing box office and home video revenue for movies. It estimates that in the year 2005, Internet piracy of motion pictures cost the film industry $2.3 billion in revenue. These numbers have long been debated. The MPAA has also sued a number of single users as well as file-sharing sites like The Pirate Bay, citing infringement on copyrighted materials. These lawsuits sparked enormous debate over the legalities and ethics of online file sharing.


Downloading movies comes in two forms--legal and illegal. Illegal downloading of movies comes when a new release shows up on the Internet days or even hours after its release. These copies are usually filmed in a crowded movie theater on opening night, leading to poor video quality and even worse sound. More professional-looking copies, however, including those ripped straight from screener DVDs, show up in the weeks that follow. Legally downloading movies can be done in a variety of ways, including sites sanctioned by movie studios and Internet rental distributors that offer an option to download a movie instead of being mailed a paper disc.


One common misconception is that downloading movies in any form is illegal. There are a number of legal venues to download movies. Certain motion pictures have fallen into the public domain, which means that their copyrights have expired and they are free to be used by the public in any way they see fit. Many of these movies are old, and while today's generation will have not heard of a good majority of them, they do include certain big names like George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" and the original vampire movie "Nosferatu." Another outlet for downloading movies are legal sites like Hulu.com that stream DVD-quality copies of certain movies with limited commercial interruptions.


As more movie studios and the MPAA itself begin to accept the fact that downloading movies (be it in a legal or illegal fashion) is not going away, they've begun to embrace the Internet as a legitimate means to distribute product. For example, certain studios have begun to offer online "Video on Demand" services where you can download a new release for a limited time for a certain amount of money to be watched in the comfort of your own home.

About the Author

Stephen Lilley is a freelance writer who hopes to one day make a career writing for film and television. His articles have appeared on a variety of websites. Lilley holds a Bachelor of Arts in film and video production from the University of Toledo in Ohio.

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