published Friday, July 1st, 2011

Winsett: ‘Free’ online movies invite legal, viral perils

By Jim Winsett

Q: My kids are downloading free movies. Is there risk with these sites offering free movies?

A: Your kids and everyone loves a good movie and with today's movie theater tickets costing more than ten bucks a pop, many moviegoers are opting to watch their favorite movies at home for free instead.

“Free,” however, comes with a cost, a cost that many consumers do not realize. The Better Business Bureau warns consumers against downloading “free” online movies.

According to researchers from cloud security provider Zscaler, movie sites like,, and, all look harmless when in fact, they are luring consumers into a copyright infringement trap.

Sites like these house hundreds of pirated movies and by downloading them onto your computer you are committing a copyright infringement. Importantly, consumers need to know the consequences of using such sites. It is ultimately their responsibility to ensure that the files they are downloading and sharing are legal copies.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, an individual who uploads or downloads online movies that are protected by copyright law without the authority of the copyright owner can be subjected to copyright infringement violations.

Such cases can be considered liable for statutory damages up to $30,000 for each work infringed. If infringement is found to be willful that amount can be increased up to $150,000 for each work infringed. In addition, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the government can also criminally prosecute you for copyright infringement. Fines up to $250,000 and/or a five year prison sentence can result.

To avoid such risks, the Better Business Bureau recommends the following:

• Purchase all copyrighted works online using one of the many services that are authorized to sell copyrighted pieces. By doing so, you can avoid copyright infringement violations.

• When evaluating services to decide if they provide legal music and movie files, look for statements that say they have obtained the copyright permission of the artists or company representing the artists.

• Seek legal alternatives. The Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America provide a list of some of the more popular legal online media sources, including iTunes and YouTube.

• Be careful when downloading illegal digital files. Illegal downloading places your computer at high risk of receiving viruses.

To learn more about how to protect yourself from copyright infringement, visit and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at

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