Popular devices such as the Amazon Fire Stick, Roku, Google Chromecast and others are designed to make streaming videos easier than ever before, but they can also be used to view pirated movies and music.
You no longer need a laptop to connect your computer to a television, and you no longer need to have a "smart TV."
With these devices, you can watch shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video and premium channels such as HBO just by plugging the devices into your television set — usually through USB and HDMI ports.
But Kansas City-based KSHB has learned of a loophole allowing people to watch more content than ever before, including movies still being played in the theater. Videos on YouTube are instructing users on how to download an app that gives them access to content for free.
Device users should beware that while streaming is legal, it is illegal to download and distribute pirated movies.
"Yes it is illegal," tech expert Burton Kelso told KSHB. "A lot of people don't realize this streaming content is coming from servers that are usually based outside the United States that are pulling this video or music feed directly into your TV."
LegalZoom.com emphasizes that streaming is not the same as downloading — when someone downloads, he is saving a copy of the the work. Downloading provides an opportunity to share or distribute the content, and that is what is illegal.
According to the FBI, anyone found guilty of criminal copyright infringement could face up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
People in the movie industry around the globe are taking an active role in fighting film piracy. Creative Content Australia is an organization aiming to educate people on illegal downloading and online piracy, and it's chaired by a film producer. And the UK Federation Against Copyright Theft is a trade organization established to protect the interests of intellectual property, according to MSN.
Tips on avoiding movies that are online illegally:
• Look for the source. Does the website or app cite where it got the movie? Do you recognize the name?
• Try to contact the provider. Does it offer a contact phone number, email address and/or website? Or does it have a more anonymous feel?
• Look for multiple means of accessing the film. Does the website have a companion app?
Tips source: TheBalance.com