Watch parties are a modern means of watching movies with people who are physically distant. Here are some scenarios:

  1. Victor and Rebekah are a couple in a long-distance dating relationship. Victor has Amazon Prime and Disney+, thus being able to stream movies, but Rebekah doesn't. Although they live far away, he can open Amazon on his computer while they're on a Skype or Zoom call, then share his screen so that they can watch a movie together.
  2. Torrey is part of a group of seven Internet friends who call on Zoom twice a week. For the second call each week, she plans to host a watch party in which she screen-shares a new movie she likes.
  3. Sam thinks people should be able to enjoy movies for free. Because of this, he has a public Zoom room that anyone can join which plays nonstop movies 24-7.

The first scenario involves two people, the second involves a defined group, and the third is public without restrictions. Which of these scenarios, if any, are legal, and why?

Also, would the answers change in any of these scenarios if, instead of screensharing a movie directly, someone instead put a disc in a DVD player, turned on a movie through a TV set, and then pointed a web camera at the TV set for the entirety of the film? Would this have any legal change (I'm guessing not).

Edit: To avoid conjecture, I'd like answers to reference any relevant statutes or cases if such are available.

  • Why has this question become downvoted after being in positive territory? Is there anything I can do to improve it?
    – The Editor
    Feb 12, 2022 at 23:56

3 Answers 3


The legality of the activity depends on the provider and your location. You gain a license to access content from e.g. Amazon by paying them money, and they state the rules regarding what you can legally access. This might be the most relevant terms for a customer in the US; this might be the Amazon Prime Video Terms of Use for the US (they may use location-based redirection, and the files do not clearly identify the jurisdiction). Bear in mind that all viewing from an internet streaming service involves copying, whereby you (may) get permission, therefore un-permitted use violates copyright.

The first link to Video Usage Rules permits you to "stream purchased videos online through your web browser" and other devices. They also allow streaming "up to three videos at the same time using the same Amazon account", and you can "stream the same video to no more than two devices at a time". The same conditions apply to content available by dint of having a Prime subscription.

The conditions do not require that you own the devices to which you stream, and they also do not define the term "stream". Also note that there is a separate service, Prime Video Mobile Edition which I suppose is cheaper, which allows streaming a single item to a single device at a time.

It is a possible and reasonable interpretation that by re-broadcasting via Zoom, you are "streaming to another device". The terms allow streaming to a second device, and not to a third device. Plaintiffs might argue that they intended "streaming" to mean, well, a conventional wire from their server directly to your screen, but (1) they didn't say that and parties to a contract are not required to read minds, and (2) nothing in the terms actually and explicitly bars Zooming your screen to someone else. Somewhat conspicuously, there is also no ban on commercial exploitation of Prime Video, that is, nothing in the usage rules bars charging admission and inviting the neighborhood.

But... the separate TOS includes clause 4.k which says

You may not (i) transfer, copy or display the Digital Content, except as permitted in this Agreement; (ii) sell, rent, lease, distribute, or broadcast any right to the Digital Content; (iii) remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content; (iv) attempt to disable, bypass, modify, defeat, or otherwise circumvent any digital rights management or other content protection system used as part of the Service; or (v) use the Service or Digital Content for any commercial or illegal purpose.

That puts paid to my scheme for making a buck. The part where it says you cannot do stuff "except as permitted in this Agreement" is where the rule changes from "you may do anything not forbidden" to "you may only do that which is permitted". I think it is quite a stretch to claim that they permitted you to do this thing because they forgot to explicitly disallow it.

So under the apparent structure of the entire Prime agreement, I would conclude that this is illegal.

  • Thanks for your reply! It's consistent with my thoughts. One interesting thing you pointed out, however, is that using Zoom to screen share may fall under the permission they give to "stream" videos, assuming "stream" can be so construed. When there is disagreement over the interpretation of an agreement such as this, does the court use the interpretation most favorable to the party agreeing to it rather than the party that created the terms? If so, then it could be argued that the Video Usage Rules do permit it under the favorable interpretation the court would accept. What are your thoughts?
    – The Editor
    Feb 10, 2022 at 17:26
  • Especially when one has a take it or leave it contract where the customer doesn't get to negotiate the terms and write the contract. Hence the burden of dispelling ambiguity falls on the maker.
    – user6726
    Feb 10, 2022 at 17:29
  • Would this mean that, despite my initial guess that screen sharing through Zoom would violate the terms, it likely is consistent with their terms after all, perhaps?
    – The Editor
    Feb 11, 2022 at 2:57
  • Also, kisspuska just edited his answer. Upon looking at it, the reference's definition of the public being people gathered "outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances" is making me wonder if my first and second scenarios from the OP are excluded from being infringement. What are your thoughts?
    – The Editor
    Feb 12, 2022 at 17:30

Technically: NO

The question is: do you infringe copyright if you share your screen while watching a copyrighted film with somebody else?

And the answer to that question is generally: yes, it's copyright infringement. Why? Let's see:

Are you infringing (Title 17 chapter 5, esp. section 501) on the rights of the copyright holder (Title 17 chapter 1 , esp. section 106) to distribute their film by making it available? Yes, you perform it, thus violating copyright. Especially notice these excerpts:

To “perform” a work means to recite, render, play, dance, or act it, either directly or by means of any device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show its images in any sequence or to make the sounds accompanying it audible.

To perform or display a work “publicly” means— [...]

(2) to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work to a place specified by clause (1) or to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times.

To “transmit” a performance or display is to communicate it by any device or process whereby images or sounds are received beyond the place from which they are sent.

  1. Exclusive rights in copyrighted works

Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following: [...]

(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;

  • Is a movie a work of art? Do you stream the whole movie? Are you usurping the market (people that have not yet seen the movie) from the movie distributor? Clearly, yes, yes, yes. This puts factors 2, 3, and 4 (nature is fictional, the amount is all, Effect on the market is that the stream is a replacement for a legitimate copy) against screen sharing on films. This makes it near impossible to claim fair use (Title 17 Section 107).


Case 3 is clearly illegal.

Case 2 likewise does not change a lot: being "internet friends" is generally not recognized, and would likely not stop people from being considered the public or a subset of it under the law - especially not if the group is large and could be described as "random people you met online". Under that pattern, even if a broadcast that is somewhat publically accessible (through word of mouth access sharing or something) would have not a single viewer, it would still be aimed at some subset of the public, which is the public. This in turn means, that even sharing with a single person that isn't specifically allowed to be shared with is illegal. However, it would be up to a court to draw a line between the is-Public of "these 42 random people Peter talks to on Zoom" and the not-Public which is "Peter, Paula, Maria and Marcus, who would meet and drink after work if not for COVID". However... Usage licenses apply, and streaming services generally ban re-streaming in their ToS (see below).

Case 1 has a Significant Other that might qualify as family under the law, and then it would not be copyright infringement. So it might be ok unless the ToS of the site make it a breach of the contract to re-stream to anyone. Which incidentally is banned in the Amazon Prime ToS. That would be a Breach of Contract claim of the streaming service against Victor, not Copyright Infringement.


But there is one difference: Copyright infringement needs to be filed for by the copyright holder. This means, the copyright holder needs to learn of the conduct first, then file suit with enough evidence. Which makes it incredibly hard for cases 1 and maybe 2.

However, it is still not technically legal if those people are not inside the "inner circle" that is not the public and there is the problem with the ToS, making it not ok even with that inner circle.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Feb 13, 2022 at 23:14
  1. Will not be found infringing performance. (See for e.g. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. v. WTV Systems, Inc., 824 F. Supp. 2d 1003, 2011 Copyright L. Dec. (CCH) 30154, 99 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1663 (C.D. Cal. 2011) holding that “[u]nder Section 101(1), the “public place” clause, a performance is public if it occurs: [¶] at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered[; however, for e.g. c]ustomers [in a commercial relationship] watching [c]opyrighted [w]orks [] through [a transmission] system are not necessarily watching it in a “public place,” [yet] transmissions [may be] “to the public” [on the basis of such a] relationship between [alleged infringers.]” [If such relationship exist] those customers are nonetheless members of “the public[“ for them not being a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances]”.

  2. If the friends were made as a result of the pandemic, probably would fall under the same treatment as above; this is because a statutory construction may not have absurd consequences or such that the legislation has not intended. Accordingly, just because, for a pandemic people must stay at home, the intention with a pandemic ordinance, mandate, or law is to the spread of pathogens, and not to isolate people in a family and its normal circles of acquaintances even if the latter is to a significant degree an unavoidable consequence. Similarly, legislation on copyright infringement is found to have not have the absurd consequence to isolate family members and acquaintances normally gathering, but to provide for reasonable protection for the “mental labor” of the copyright holder. Accordingly, neither of these were intended to prevent families and its normal circle of acquaintances to gather as they could and perform copyright protected material or establish new members of that circle in a pandemic as much as it is legally possible in line with the legislative intent relevant to such restrictions. An infringement finding would be absurd.

  3. I have no knowledge of a jurisdiction where this would be not be found an infringement.

Using a camera to do the either of the above will not change the what is legally relevant here unless a stored copy is also created. (That would put each of these in many jurisdiction in clear violation, do note, some allow to create backup copies, one like that could give a pass for the in-addition stored recording)

  • 3
    I didn't know the event of a pandemic is a criteria of "fair use"... can you cite that?
    – Ron Beyer
    Feb 7, 2022 at 4:00
  • I wonder if you could cite where I stated that “the event of a pandemic is a criteria of “fair use””. I merely gave an example where it is possible that a fair use defense could arguably be applicable. There may be others, but even the example defense could very well fail.
    – kisspuska
    Feb 7, 2022 at 4:24
  • Fair use was never an explicit right merely a defense, possibly a right merely in the sense implied in customary law how a copy of a movie or show is consumed after the limited transfer of right (sale, subscription, digital rental etc.). Arguably, one using their right to watch it with family or a romantic partner is what anyone reasonable would consider fair use absent special license provisions. I would find it difficult to imagine that a judge would not consider the pandemic and its restrictive effects in the fair use of the copy merely to do what they would otherwise did absent a curfew.
    – kisspuska
    Feb 7, 2022 at 4:25
  • Thanks for the reply! Do you know of any sources, perhaps statutes or cases, that might suggest that pandemic restrictions could result in this being fair use?
    – The Editor
    Feb 8, 2022 at 21:18
  • Statute definitely not, and I am fairly sure the fact pattern is undecided likely not even before a court, and I couldn’t think of another scenario where either 1, 2, or 3 could be deemed as not violating.
    – kisspuska
    Feb 8, 2022 at 22:33

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