Bureau warns consumers of cost of 'free' online movies

Everyone loves a good movie and with today's movie theater tickets costing more than ten dollars many movie goers are opting to watch their favorite movies at home for free instead. "Free," however, comes with a cost, a cost that many consumers don't realize. The Better Business Bureau warns consumers against downloading "free" online movies.

According to researchers from cloud security provider Zscaler, movie sites like www.letmewatchthis.com, www.letbobwatchthis.com, and www.movie-source.org, 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 a computer viewers are committing a copyright infringement.

"Consumers need to know the consequences of using such sites," said Patrick Bennett, BBB Director of Community Relations "It is ultimately their responsibility to ensure that the files they are downloading and sharing are legal copies."

According to the United States 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 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 (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) can 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 are from copyright infringement, visit www.bbb.org and www.cybercrime.gov sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Published: Wed, Apr 6, 2011