Is it legal to download games, movies and music from the internet? Although the internet may seem like a place of freedom and anonymity, sometimes the opposite is true. In particular, beware of intellectual property infringement.
Most of us know about netiquette and our digital identity but our digital footprint has other connotations. In the wild 1990s, and for many years after the turn of the millennium, there was no great problem getting anything on the global network, ranging from truly illegal stuff to matters that fall into the grey area.
Today, however, downloading illegal content is dangerous due to changes in legislation around the world and the fact that we have become “accustomed” to the internet, which is no longer a bizarre novelty but a ubiquitous thing.
There are precedents. The harshest punishments are given to those who run illegal servers for downloading programmes and other things, and large fines or jail terms have also been handed out to hackers who steal user data. However, those who redistribute illegal content and either make it available to others through uploading or direct mailing or sell it directly will not escape the hands of justice.
For personal use, the situation is more complicated and further escalated by the absolutely unclear Copyright Act. However, it will soon be amended in our country as a result of the approval of a new EU directive, which contains, among other things, controversial Articles 11 and 13.
Downloading films, music and video games
Let us focus directly on the three most popular media formats: films and TV series, music and video games.
The clearest situation is for video games: any downloading from an illegal source – anything not sold directly by the developer, distributor or a verified third party such as a digital platform – is illegal and potentially subject to punishment.
In practice, however, downloading a video game, even a brand new one, is not usually punished. Firstly, it would be very difficult to deal with systemically, and secondly, anti-piracy unions and publishers are fighting the cause, not the effect; they are trying to prevent distribution.
For example, beware of downloading from torrents (if you are not careful you also upload the downloaded data back, i.e. you are distributing illegal content) or any other distribution of downloaded content. This can be punished and legal precedents exist, regardless of the ethical side of the matter. And mind you, it does not matter whether you give the downloaded stuff away or sell it, any distribution is illegal.
For films and music that are not classified as computer programmes, the situation is different, albeit in detail. Due to outdated laws, it is generally legal – or at least in a grey legislative zone – to download films and music for personal use. It is not that simple but the Copyright Act more or less implies it; let us stress, however, that the Act dates from 2000 and has undergone only partial changes since then. Soon it will be subject to a more significant amendment.
Illegal downloading of programmes is an essential seedbed for viruses and malware.
What is important is that downloading music or movies is virtually worthless on today’s internet. With services like Spotify or Deezer for recorded music, and Netflix or HBO GO for films and TV series for a few hundred crowns a month, it is completely pointless to bother with potentially dangerous and illegal downloads of poor-quality music and films.
Another EU directive has provided users with more power and ability to decide how companies handle their data – and not just European companies, the global ones as well. On virtually all services collecting user data (programmes, websites, mobile and PC apps, etc.), it is possible to tick or review how the service handles users’ information.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has helped transform the world of information and is currently inspiring similar rules in other countries around the globe, including the United States.
But one thing is important for European users: GDPR makes it much harder for companies to sell user data to third parties. It is also the reason why on most websites a notice pops up about how they collect our information, or a little bar appears, telling us how they use that data in compliance with GDPR and contractual terms.