Free online movies: Bargain or bootleg?

It can be tempting to watch first-run movies online. . . But is it legal?
March 24, 2014 8:32:26 PM PDT
Taking the entire family to the movies may be a hassle and expensive. So it could be tempting to watch those same, first run movies, for free on your couch. But is it legal?

They are titles you may think are only on the big screen. But the I-Team found first run movies and others, just released on DVD, like "Frozen," all streaming for free, on the website watch32.com.

Some of them are the real deal, full screen movies. Others are shot in a theatre with a video camera. The website, which sells ads, also contains a disclaimer saying it is " absolutely legal and contains only links to other sites on the internet. But John Marshall Law School professor and entertainment lawyer Corky Kessler says the hosts of the site are illegally giving people access to pirated movies.

"If the owner doesn't give consent for it to be streamed or shown it is an intellectual property, copyright infringement. Hands down," said Kessler.

He says as a viewer, you may not be breaking the law because the movies stream and they don't download. But it is possible, that without you knowing it, part of that streaming footage can get downloaded to your device. Then, you could be in violation of the law. Brother and sister Cassandra Blakely and Don Ski brought each of their children to the Lake Street Theatre in Oak Park, to see "Mr. Peabody and Sherman." Before they went in, we showed them part of the movie, for free, online.

"Me personally, I will utilize it I am strapped for cash," said Cassandra Blakely.

"I wouldn't do it because I love the movies," said Don Ski.

"Who would want to go on a rainy day to a theatre when you can watch it for free," said Enrique Travis.

"It's not fair to the actors," said Jasmin Calveron.

"They also make tons and tons of money so I don't think it would hurt their salaries," said Lisa McGuirt.

You may not care about the studios or the actors who make millions, but local businesses lose out when you watch movies for free online.

"I would say it's the same thing as going into a restaurant and eating and running out without paying," said Chris Johnson.

Chris Johnson is the owner of the Chicago area's Classic Cinemas, with 13 theatres. He says the questionable site could hurt his profits and the livelihood of his 500 employees.

"I am going to play "Need for Speed," which is out right now, which is not good," said Johnson.

He says new security procedures are in place nationwide.

"If they film the screen it will show what theatre, what projector, what time it was played," said Johnson.

And what about those movies that look like originals? Kessler says they could be copies sold by studio employees.

"The master or the copy of the master is being sold," said Kessler.

The website in question does not provide a phone number or e-mail on its site to contact anyone. It was the only one we found that had brand new, streaming movies. Other sites had trouble actually playing the movie or required an illegal download. Studios are constantly shutting these sites down, but then new ones pop up.


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