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Here's my question: Is it legal to expose tv series from web sites on a mobile platform? Would the developer(s) be sued for creating such a software ? Or since the data is already exposed online(i.e web sites where users can watch their tv series online), it would be considered legal to expose the data on a non-commercial or commercial platform ?

Would be better if instead of the actual video, it would be the URL (link to the ressource) ?

  • Is your question about the person who creates the software that enables this, or about the person who hosts the software? The answers are totally different, depending. – user6726 Aug 30 '17 at 15:52
  • @user6723 My question is about the person that makes the software. I'm creating a simple app to follow along my TV shows and thought if my app was able to find and download streaming video so I could watch them in my app, it would be pretty great ! – Kevin Avignon Aug 30 '17 at 15:54
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Addressing the question of programmer liability, generally speaking, a person who creates something that others use to infringe on copyright is not liable is liable if there are non-infringing uses for the thing (Sony). They can be liable if they intentionally contribute to infringement, viz Grokster

one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.

End-user liability is different. In order to legally download (watch) anything, you have to have permission from the rights-holder, and from the site operator. The site operator will have terms of service according to which you can access material: if you violate those terms, you are infringing on copyright (you didn't do what the permission to copy required of you). If the site-owner knowingly distributes material without permission, he is an infringer and you have no legal license to copy (watch) that content, so you too are an infringer. If the site-owner unknowingly distributed material without permission and generally complies with the DMCA safe harbor requirements, he is not an infringer but you the user are. Congress has not created an innocent-infringement defense where you can defend yourself against an accusation of infringement by proving that you didn't know that the material was distributed without permission (there is an option to reduce liability for statutory damages to $200 in case of unknowing infringement, but not make all liability go away).

  • So, from what you're saying, if I were to get tv shows from any public streaming web site, may it be legal or not, I won't be liable for copyright infringement or trademark violation ? – Kevin Avignon Aug 30 '17 at 18:27
  • I'm not sure what you mean by "get", but I assume you're asking from the viewer's perspective, so I address that as well. – user6726 Aug 30 '17 at 19:13
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In the United States (and likely in other jurisdictions) the copyright holder has the exclusive right of "public performance" of the work, which includes exclusive control over broadcast and digital presentation of the work.

See Aereo for an example of a U.S. company that tried to challenge this exclusive right in a digital context and lost: Aereo captured over-the-air television broadcasts and presented them via an online service. The Supreme Court ruled that this violated the exclusive public performance rights of the copyright holders of the broadcasted works.

The work's availability as free of charge from the copyright holder is not relevant, as we can see in the above case. Aereo lost, and they were repurposing works physically broadcast for consumption by anyone who could pick up the broadcast signal.

By contrast, if you want to use a link to point people to the location of a video on the Internet that has been legally offered by the copyright holder, there is no law stopping you from doing so. Also, you might be able to serve a webpage that uses an iframe to frame the original source (though the case law in this area is somewhat conflicting), since your page that includes the HTML <iframe src="..."> is in no way a derivative of the framed page. However, you could cause a trademark violation if you surround the framed page with your own branding and confuse the true origin of the video.

If the video you are linking to is an obvious case of infringement, posted without permission of the copyright holder (e.g. the latest Game of Thrones episode hosted on pirateallthemovies.foo), then systematically helping people find these sorts of illegally-posted resources can make your liable for contributory infringement.


Whether or not merely distributing such an app (versus using such an app) is illegal depends largely on whether the app automatically performs copyright infringement for its users and whether the app has substantial non-infringing uses.

  • If the app's author makes the app intentionally direct users to infringing resources, then the author is liable for contributory infringement.
  • If the app circumvents DRM that controls access or copying, that is likely a DMCA violation in the U.S.
  • If the app merely plays videos from an arbitrary user-defined server, then it may have substantial non-infringing uses: it's just a video player app that plays videos that servers offer on the Web.
    • By contrast, if such an app hard-coded by the author to use a particular server that consists substantially of infringing material, that's the contributory infringement case.
  • So I would need to find legal streaming services for TV series and make sure to refer to their website to show where the video would come from if I would download a video from their website. – Kevin Avignon Aug 30 '17 at 15:55
  • @KevinAvignon I'm not sure what you mean by "download a video from their website." You can certainly point people to legitimate streaming service and encourage people to use them. You cannot create a copy of the works offered by the streaming service and offer them yourself from your own server. Less clear is whether or not you can serve code that directs people to download the a work from a streaming service's servers without actually directly visiting that site. This last case is (IMHO) not copyright infringement, but may be a trademark violation. – apsillers Aug 30 '17 at 15:58
  • What I meant by downloading from the websites was I thought that the software I would create could use directly a legal streaming service to directly download into the platform I'm creating streaming video. From what I understand from what you told me, in order to avoid copyright infringement and trademark violation, I should also mention from where the video would come from. Moreover, since I'm making the software open source, I should also specify that I'm refering to legal sites. If others do not while using my tool, it won't be my fault ? – Kevin Avignon Aug 30 '17 at 16:07
  • How would one know whether or not a streaming web site is legal? Because basically, refering to what you said about being a video player app, it would be just that. The app could play the video for you coming from a legal streaming web site and I would put the trademark from the website as the source of the media content. Another question: I'm from Canada. Does this impact the content I could legally download from and if so, from where should I try to get the content that I'd like to find on internet with my app ? – Kevin Avignon Aug 30 '17 at 16:15
  • @KevinAvignon I'd expect: (1) that if your app makes use of a server's willingness to serve a video at large (without any DRM circumvention) and it renders that video for a user, that's probably not copyright infringement, as long as the user gets it directly from the authorized source (i.e., it doesn't route through your server) and (2) you may get sued anyway, by an overeager copyright holder even if you're 100% in the right. You have to be very careful not to say anything that could appear to encourage illegal behavior. – apsillers Aug 30 '17 at 16:19

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