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Is Streaming Illegal in the United States? What You Need to Know

Important – This post should not be considered legal advice by TROYPOINT.  Seek professional legal counsel for additional information on this matter.


Is streaming illegal in the United States?

This is a question we frequently receive through messages and comments on the TROYPOINT website.

There is a lot to uncover when answering this question, as the answer is not simply “yes or no.” We recommend reading through this entire article.

We also cover the legality of streaming in the UK and Canada since many of our visitors/subscribers reside there.

We want to know your thoughts after reading this article. See below for Troy’s take on this significant topic.

Leave us a comment in the comment section below!

Legal Copyright Disclaimer: TROYPOINT is a tech website that publishes tutorials, news, and reviews. We do not verify if apps, services, or websites hold the proper licensing for media that they deliver. We do not own, operate, or re-sell any streaming site, service, app, or addon. Each person shall be solely responsible for media accessed and we assume that all visitors are complying with the copyright laws set forth within their jurisdiction. Users should be cautious of free streaming applications not available for install through respective app stores such as Amazon App Store and Google Play. If using unverified apps such as these, you should only be streaming or downloading content not protected by copyright such as works in the Public Domain. Referenced applications, addons, services, and streaming sites are not hosted or administered by TROYPOINT.

Is Streaming Illegal in the United States?

According to a report from the Global Innovation Policy Center, streaming accounts for “80 percent of piracy in the United States.”

It’s well documented in United States law that downloading copyrighted movies, TV shows, music, and other software is a crime.

The same is also true for those operating a pirate streaming website and providing content protected by copyright.

In other words, downloading unlicensed content and hosting unauthorized streams is illegal under current United States law.

But is the end-user streaming from these websites committing a crime?

Lately, we’ve seen several instances of U.S. government officials pushing for stricter copyright laws.

US Senators Push New Copyright Bill 
US Government Releases List of Top Pirate Sites
US Court Says ISPs Must Block Access to Pirate Sites

The same can be said for global copyright groups such as the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) and the Motion Pictures Association (MPA).

MPA Asks EU to Crack Down on Piracy – Sites Listed
ACE Helps with Arrest of Mobdro Developer
ACE Shuts Down FileLinked
ACE and MPA Target Streaming Sites & IPTV

Streaming Online Is Not Illegal (Yet)

All discussion of streaming legality starts with the Copyright Act of 1976.

This legislation essentially gives copyright holders the “exclusive rights” to create copies of their work and distribute them to the public.

While the Internet has drastically changed the landscape, under the Copyright Act of 1976, viewing unauthorized streams does not technically violate this law.

Over time there have been several challenges to this piece of copyright legislation in the US, but as of this writing, nothing has officially changed.

The latest legal challenge to Copyright Law came in December 2020 when Congress passed the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2021 (PLSA).

While many clickbait articles were created to drive hysteria, this new law simply increased criminal penalties to a felony for those operating illegal pirate websites.

The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act punishes the following individuals:

“Those who willfully and for commercial advantage or private financial gain, illegally stream copyrighted material. Previously, illegal streaming was treated as a misdemeanor. Under the new law, the Department of Justice can bring felony charges against providers (as opposed to users) of such illegal services.”

Again, even with this latest piece of copyright legislation in the United States, an end-user watching unauthorized streams still does not violate this law.

The Copyright Alliance made this clear by commenting the following on the new PLSA law:

“This new law will not affect the activities of ordinary internet users. Nor would it criminalize good faith business/licensing disputes or noncommercial activities. This means that individual internet streamers cannot be subject to felony prosecution under the PLSA.

The normal practices of internet service providers (ISPs) would also not be subject to penalties under the PLSA, even when ISP users/subscribers misuse their services for purposes of infringement.”

While streaming is currently not illegal in the United States, this does not mean lawmakers and copyright authorities will sit back. We would only expect streaming/copyright laws to become stricter over time.

Let’s see what legal professionals have to say about the current copyright laws in the United States.

Is Streaming Illegal – Thoughts From Legal Professionals

After doing hours of research on this topic, we found various sources from legal professionals discussing the legality of streaming in the United States.

The first law professor we came across is James Gibson from Richmond University.

Gibson has frequently published his thoughts on copyright/streaming laws in the United States and is also the founder of the Intellectual Property Institute.

When asked if streaming is illegal in the United States, Gibson has stated the following in various publications:

““I think the best interpretation of copyright law is that it’s not illegal to watch unlicensed content. The person who’s merely watching a stream should incur no copyright liability from that act alone.”

Gibson has also discussed the important distinction between streaming and public performances.

He further explains this in one of his comments:

“Copyright attaches liability only to public performances, and streams aren’t public performances. Streams are performances, but they’re not public if it’s just you in the privacy of your own home and you’re not making a permanent copy. You start it and you stop it and that’s your only interaction with it.”

Another law professional knowledgeable about streaming/copyright laws in the United States is Nicole Haff.

Haff is the head of litigation at Romano Law PLLC and has also been featured in various publications pertaining to copyright laws.

Haff seems to agree with Professor Gibson on streaming liability in the United States. She has stated the following:

“I think it would be a hard argument to say that somebody watching a streamed video is publicly performing the video. They’re not the one putting it out there, they’re actually receiving it.”

Peer to Peer Streaming

Another area of copyright law that needs to be discussed is peer-to-peer streaming. This type of unauthorized streaming can get the end-user into legal trouble.

Peer-to-peer streaming involves services that rely on users to share the content. This is similar to torrenting files.

Being a viewer in peer-to-peer streaming means you are also a broadcaster, which does violate copyright law in the United States.

However, peer-to-peer streaming networks are less common than you think. These typically force users to opt-in by clicking “Allow” before joining a stream.

Unlike traditional streaming websites, it’s unlikely that someone would unwillingly join a peer-to-peer stream without any knowledge.

Joy Butler, a licensed attorney, better explains peer-to-peer streaming:

“If I access that stream via a peer-to-peer streaming service that I know is not legal because I’m uploading unauthorized content in order to access other unauthorized copies, then yes, I can get in trouble for participating in streaming in that way.”

For those wondering about the legality of IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) or Kodi, we suggest viewing our dedicated articles below.

Is IPTV Legal? What You Need to Know

Is Kodi Legal? All Questions Answered

Do You Need a VPN for Streaming?

Now that you are aware streaming in the United States is not illegal, you may be wondering if a VPN is needed.

As streaming laws will only become stricter, this drastically increases the importance of VPNs.

Yes, using a VPN for streaming is necessary. Below we have listed several reasons why.

Protection from Hackers, Developers, and Website Operators

Regardless of the legality behind streaming, protecting yourself from bad actors is a must when streaming anything online.

Since many cord-cutters are streaming through unverified apps/services it’s crucial to protect your online identity.

ISP Blocking

Many are unaware that Internet service providers (ISPs) often block certain streaming apps, services, and websites, and the only way to access them is by using a VPN.

This makes sense as ISPs are also in the cable business, which means less money for them when users decide to stream.

A quality VPN encrypts your connection to the Internet so it is impossible for your ISP to block what you want to access online.

Unblocking Geo-Restrictions

Similar to ISPs, certain countries will impose restrictions on what type of content you can access through their networks.

Using a quality VPN like will help evade censorship due to geographic locations, which is especially important for streaming!

Our top recommended VPN, IPVanish, has over 1,600 servers in 75+ locations across the world. There are over 40,000 anonymous IP Addresses to choose from.

Best VPN for Streaming

While there are many VPNs to choose from, TROYPOINT’s top-rated VPN for streaming is IPVanish.

IPVanish is the best VPN for streaming for all of the reasons outlined above and other great features include the following:

No traffic logs
Easy to Use App for any streaming device
Blazing Fast Download Speeds
Great Price – Click Here for Special Discount
Compatible with Streaming Apps
Secure VPN Protocols
Hundreds of servers located worldwide
24/7 customer support
30-day money-back guarantee
Unlimited connections with one account

IPVanish checks all of the boxes when it comes to protecting yourself while streaming. See our full review of IPVanish VPN below for more information.

IPVanish Complete Review

Continue reading below to learn more about the legality of streaming in other countries.

Is Streaming Illegal in Canada?

Since many of our TROYPOINT visitors come from Canada, we thought it would be useful to also dive into the legality of streaming in Canada.

After researching streaming/copyright laws in Canada, it appears to be very similar to the United States.

Goodlawyer, which is a Canadian website, states the following on Canada’s streaming laws:

“As someone who just watches the movie online and does not download it, you are unlikely to face any penalties. Under Canadian law, simply watching a movie online does not go against any laws.”

Based on this information, the answer to “is streaming illegal in Canada?” would be no. But those who provide unauthorized streams or download unauthorized files can face criminal charges.

Is Streaming Illegal in the United Kingdom?

When it comes to streaming/copyright laws in the United Kingdom, there appear to be harsher penalties for the end-user.

We researched several outlets based in the United Kingdom and found similar responses.

According to CrimeStoppers, a UK hosted website, the United Kingdom apparently takes a stricter approach to streaming:

“If you are streaming and watching films, TV, or sports content through an unauthorized source – for free or paid-for – then you are streaming illegally.

Every time you access illegal content, whether it’s to watch your favourite films, sports or TV shows using a modified box or stick or via an unauthorised website, app, add-on or another illegal source, you are committing a crime.”

Based on this information, the answer to “is streaming illegal in the United Kingdom?” would be yes.

However, no citizen has even been prosecuted for simply watching an unauthorized stream or movie.

We want to know what you think of streaming laws? Do you think streaming laws will only get stricter around the world?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

Be sure to stay up-to-date with the latest streaming news, reviews, tips, and more by following the TROYPOINT Advisor with updates weekly.

This Advisor provides all the best cord-cutting tips to get the most out of your favorite streaming devices and more.

Click the link below to join the other 800,000 Advisor subscribers.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is Streaming Illegal in the United States?

While this answer is not straightforward, streaming in the United States is not illegal under current copyright law. However, downloading unlicensed content and hosting unauthorized streams is illegal. TROYPOINT does not endorse or promote illegal streaming.

Can You Get in Trouble for Illegal Streaming?

While streaming is not technically illegal in the United States, users can still face penalties from their Internet service providers (ISPs) and other watchdog groups. It is extremely important to protect yourself online with a VPN and only view content that is not protected by copyright.

Is Downloading Movies Online Illegal?

Yes, downloading movies protected by copyright is illegal in the United States, Canada, the UK, and other parts of the world. However, it is legal to download movies in the public domain, which are not protected by copyright.

Is Streaming Illegal in Canada?

Similar to the United States, streaming is not illegal in Canada. But those who provide unauthorized streams or download unauthorized files can face criminal charges.

Is Streaming Illegal in the United Kingdom?

Yes, both downloading and streaming unlicensed content is illegal in the United Kingdom. However, no citizen has even been prosecuted for simply watching an unauthorized stream or movie.

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