Is watching TV for free on the Internet legal?

Updated: 04/30/2020 by Computer Hope

Free TV

Yes, and no. Depending on how you are watching TV on the Internet determines if it’s legal or not. Often, the easiest way to determine if the content is legal is if it contains advertisements or a sponsor. The producers of the content cannot afford to release their content without some type of sponsorship. If you are downloading or watching TV without commercials or sponsorship, it may be illegal.

Note

If you are downloading or viewing illegal content, it’s a security risk since many of the sites hosting the content are supported by malware.

Where are places on the Internet that I can watch TV for free and legally?

The websites listed below allow users to watch TV shows through their site, by way of streaming video. Some of these sites provide the streaming TV at no cost, but available content may be limited. Other sites require a small subscription fee to watch all available TV shows or a subscription to a cable or satellite service. You may need to log in with your cable or satellite service account to verify your eligibility to watch TV shows through the site, but no additional costs are required.

  • Hulu – The number one location for finding full and legal TV shows, trailers, and some movies for US visitors. Hulu is a joint venture between NBC, Fox, and many more.
  • Puffer – A free service operated by Stanford University that streams broadcast TV from California. The available channels are PBS, CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and CW.
  • Kanopy – A streaming service that is free for anyone with a card from a participating local library.
  • Joost – A great collection of content from a wide range of sources and includes some of the old cartoon classics, such as GI Joe, Transformers, Popeye, He-Man, Fat Albert, and much more.
  • Emol – Another great collection of free public domain movies, videos, music videos, and TV shows.
  • A&E – The A&E TV site features such popular shows as Dog the Bounty Hunter, Intervention, Obsessed, and The Cleaner.
  • ABC – The ABC page has many of its popular shows, such as Dancing with the stars, Desperate Housewives, Extreme Makeover, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, and Scrubs.
  • CBS – The CBS page has full shows from such shows as 60 Minutes, CSI, The Amazing Race, and more.
  • Comedy Central – The Comedy Central site features shows such as The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, South Park, and more.
  • Discovery Channel – The Discovery Channel page features such shows as Man vs. Wild, The Colony, Verminators, and more.
  • Fox – The Fox Broadcasting site features such popular shows as 24, American Idol, Cops, Family Guy, Hell’s Kitchen, The Simpsons, and much more.
  • FX – The FX page features such shows as 30 Days, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Rescue Me, and more.
  • History ChannelExpedition Africa Ice Road Truckers, Pawn Stars, and more.
  • Lifetime – The Lifetime network features such shows as Army Wives, How I met your Mother, and How to look good naked.
  • MTV – The MTV page features such shows as America’s Best Dance Crew, The Hills, Punk’d, and more.
  • NBC – The NBC page has many of its popular shows such as America’s Got Talent, ER, Heroes, Law and Order, The Office, Saturday Night Live, and many of their old classic shows.
  • SpikeTV – The Spike TV’s page features such shows as Jesse James is a Dead Man, Manswers, Pros vs. Joes, and TNA Impact.
  • TBS – The TBS page features shows such as 10 Items or less, Family Guy, My Boys, and Seinfeld.
  • TheCW – The CW also features many of its shows, such as 90210, America’s Top Model, Gossip Girl, and Melrose Place.
  • TheWB – The WB site has a collection of their new and old shows online, such as Angel, Babylon 5, Buffy, Smallville, Firefly, Friends, Gilmore Girls, and The Lake.
  • TLC – The TLC page features such shows as Cake Boss, Flip That House, Miami Ink, and Say Yes to the Dress.
  • TNT – The TNT site features popular shows online, such as Bones, ER, Law and Order, Saving Grace, and The Closer.
  • Tubi – Tubi offers licensed content from various companies. The service generates revenue through advertisements.
  • USA – The USA network features such shows as Burn Notice, Monk, Psych, and Royal Pains.
  • VH1 – The VH1 site features shows such as Brooke Knows Best, Sober House, and the T.O show.

Popular illegal methods of watching TV shows

  • Bittorrents – Downloading a TV show through a bittorrent is often illegal. These shows are put up and shared by people who do not have the rights to the Copyright.
  • TV streaming sites – Many TV sites are set up to link to other places on the Internet that stream or allow you to download full TV shows from external sources. These sites may have disclaimers citing they are not responsible for the content that is linked on the site, and have links to report broken video links. While the link sites themselves are not illegal, the content that is being linked to is often considered illegal. We also highly recommend avoiding these sites since many of them or the pages they are linking to are riddled with intrusive advertisement, spyware, porn, and other malware.

Caution

Downloading a Copyrighted TV show or movie you have not paid for or received permission to download is considered Copyright infringement and illegal.

Other non-free solutions

Netflix

  • Netflix – Netflix charges a monthly membership fee. They have a large selections of movies and TV shows that can be accessed online through the app or website. A large library of exclusive original content is also produced frequently and featured on Netflix. Also, they offer a separate service called DVD.com that mails DVD movies and series not included on Netflix’s streaming service.
  • Apple TV+ – Apple TV+ is a streaming service from Apple. For monthly subscribers, a library of originally produced content is accessible through the Apple TV app.
  • Amazon Prime – Amazon Prime charges an annual fee. It is a service provided by Amazon. It grants you free one-day or two-day shipping on all Amazon purchases, and access to their library of streaming TV shows and movies.
  • Criterion Channel – Stream classic and award-winning movies, including auteur, independent, and experimental films from the Criterion Collection. Requires an HDCP compatible viewing device, and may not be viewable on non-HDMI or non HDCP-compliant computers and monitors.
  • Disney+ – Disney+ is a subscription-based service from Disney that includes content from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, National Geographic, Lucasfilm, and other Disney-owned properties. Original content based on these Disney properties is also available exclusively through the platform.
  • Google Play Movies – Movies and TV series can be individually purchased or temporarily rented with Google Play money or other payment methods. These purchases are accessed any time on a device with access to the Google Play Movies app. Your purchases can also be accessed on YouTube by signing in with the same Google account.
  • Hulu Plus – Hulu Plus is the paid version of the free Hulu service and requires a monthly membership fee. There are many more TV shows available to stream to your computer or TV than are available with the free Hulu service.
  • Hulu + Live TV – Hulu’s top paid service providing subscribers with around 50 channels of content, including ABC, CBS, Disney, ESPN, Fox, NBC, and more. Hulu + Live TV also offers DVR service for recording of shows.
  • HBO Go – HBO Go is a service included with your HBO subscription that gives you access to all HBO’s content.
  • iTunes – Apple iTunes includes movie and TV purchases in addition to their library of music. By signing in with your Apple ID, your library of iTunes movies and television series can be accessed from any device.
  • YouTube TV – A live television service operated by YouTube that allows users to access live channels, make recordings, and access a library of movies and series on demand. Unlike other Google and YouTube entertainment services, YouTube TV is based on a subscription-based business model rather than rental on an individual basis.

Hardware devices that support Internet TV programs

Hardware devices, such as the Roku, Tivo, PS3, Wii, and Xbox, also support the ability to watch many online programs, and support Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime programs. Two popular devices that support many of these online programs are the Roku and the Xbox.

There are also TVs that support an Internet connection, called Smart TVs, and include some of these online programs. Hulu and Netflix are two common programs included on Smart TVs.

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