Earlier this week, the U.S. government struck the first blow in a new campaign against online video piracy, taking down 7 websites that allowed users to stream or download copyrighted content.
Despite the rhetoric that came with the announcement, this campaign is not going to have a major impact on the volume of online video piracy. Content creators looking to make money online are always going to be in competition with pirates. Enforcement can swing the equation in their favour, making high quality pirated material a little harder to find, but that’s about it.
The best way for media companies to fight piracy is to offer attractive ways to pay a reasonable price for online video content. It took a while, but some media companies are finally doing a pretty good job of this. Netflix’s online catalogue is still a far cry from its full library, but it has become very respectable, and the price is definitely right. Hulu has done a great job with free online television, and the early response to its brand new paid offering is very positive.
But, of course, there are still any number of ways for pirates to steal content.
Here’s an overview.
Lots of episodes of television shows are offered up for free on their own websites, or the websites of the channels that air them. Others are available on Hulu or similar web television sites.
If you watch much television online, Googling around for it quickly becomes a drag. Clicker is a great one-stop shop for finding this content.
You can also search for movies here, but more often than not, there won't be any free options.
If you're looking to buy movies and tv shows that have already been released to DVD, the obvious answer is to go to iTunes.
There's not much to complain about as far as the depth of offerings and ease of navigation are concerned, and if you have an iPhone or iPad you watch video on, you're saving yourself a step by buying content here. Apple also offers 'rentals' -- videos that expire after a limited time -- but the prices don't make much sense unless you never, ever rewatch anything.
Amazon, the default choice for buying movies on physical media online, also offers a video-on-demand service.
Netflix is a paid media service that even media thieves can get behind.
Unlimited streaming comes free with your monthly fee for DVDs in the mail, and the company has added an even cheaper, streaming-only option.
The streaming library isn't anywhere near as deep as Netflix's DVD collection, but it's still pretty terrific. It also works on your iPad and on your television through gaming consoles.
The bittorrent protocol has been the best thing going for media thieves for a few years now.
Bittorrents allow huge files to be distributed between peers without putting heavy strain on uploaders or downloaders, and without the need for heavy duty centralized servers.
With bittorrent, you can download a full season of a television show in a matter of hours, and movies in the blink of an eye.
With a client like Vuze, downloading and sharing torrents is as user-friendly as older theft-mechanisms like Napster and Kazaa.
Standalone torrent clients are great, but there are more torrents out there than any one of them can find.
Sometimes, to find more obscure shows and movies, you need to go out and hunt for them. You can try destination sites like Demonoid, use browser plug-in search tools like Torrent Search Bar, or fall back on good old fashioned Googling.
For actually downloading the media from .torrent files you'll still need a client. We like uTorrent.
These sites are designed for people to upload large files that would be difficult to send out through email or otherwise, so that they can share them with friend. They generally don't have built-in search engines -- instead, you email the link to those you want to share with.
Pirates upload media files, label them clearly, and make them publicly accessible. If you perform a Google search for the movie or show you want to see, and limit it to the domain of one of these services, you're likely to strike gold.
The search sounds like a lot of trouble, but download times would obviously be much faster than with torrents or other peer-to-peer formats.
A handful of services, such as Justin.tv, let you livestream user-generated video to other users.
A lot of people take advantage of this to broadcast television channels live. Channelsurfing.net, among other sites, checks for and links to operational streams for a wide range of channels from all of these services.
Sites like this get shut down fairly frequently, but more always spring up.
The feds took down seven sites that stream or download movies and television, or link to places that do. But that is merely a drop in the bucket.
If you don't want to install a torrent client, can't be bothered searching for more reliable downloads, aren't willing to limit yourself to free legal content, and aren't willing to pay for what you watch, then there are still zillions of these sites out there; we asked around and were directed to Fast Pass TV, Channel 131, and Project Free TV, among many others.
The quality is often poor, the pornographic advertising is rampant, and the virus-risk is no doubt high, but the simplest solution still holds a lot of appeal, and we suspect that law enforcement won't be able to keep up with these guys however hard they try.
- There is a lot of free, quality television online. Clicker is our favourite tool for navigating it all. Free movies are relatively scarce.
- If you're willing to pay, you can easily stream just about anything that has been released to DVD on iTunes, and many things that haven't been, which you can find, again, on Clicker.
- If you must steal video online, we highly recommend bittorrent. We happen to use Vuze, but there is no shortage of reviews and comparisons of all the bittorrent solutions out there.
- There are plenty of other options out there for thieves, but you should be very careful using any of them.