Is It Legal to Use Any Streaming Media Website?

Laptop computer with cable forming musical notes

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There are many perfectly legal sites from which to stream media, such as Netflix, Youtube, Pandora, Spotify, and Soundcloud, to name just a few. The below article is concerned more with P2P sharing and pirate streaming sites that aren't always 100% legal.

This streaming media FAQ explores the legalities of using streaming audio and video and what you should be aware of when surfing the Internet.

Streaming Media can be defined in its basic form as a technology that delivers any type of media (audio, video, or both) without the need to download files of different formats.


When considering the legalities, it's best to think about the rights of the copyright holder. Websites that illegally upload and stream copyrighted material are infringing on copyright and therefore you should not use these. Incidentally, this offense is actually punishable by law in most countries. Remember, even though streaming technology isn't illegal (like P2P etc.), the nature of the content you're receiving might be.

Evaluate the Content Being Streamed

If a site streams movie trailers or short music/video clips that have been approved by the copyright holder for promotional purposes, then this is obviously an authorized use. But, if you find websites that offer the whole movie or video for free, or at a vastly reduced cost compared to legal online services, then this is certainly something to be suspicious of.

The Argument of Fair Use 

There's a fine line between fair use and piracy and this is an area of the law that is often blurred at the best of times. The question to ask yourself when visiting a website that streams media is, "how much of the copyrighted material is being used, and in what context?" For example, if you find a site on the Internet that has written a review of a music album, movie, or video and has included a short clip to illustrate the article, then this is usually accepted as fair use. However, a website that streams a good deal of copyrighted material, and even tries to make money from it, may be acting illegally — especially if they haven't been given permission by the copyright holder.