[LEGAL?] Record Streaming Video and Music

Category: Audio , Video

It’s great to watch a favorite movie on Netflix, but if you want to watch it again and again, you’ll have to pay Netflix’s monthly fee again and again. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could record that movie (or tunes from Spotify) for infinite offline enjoyment, free of further charges? It's possible, but is it permissible? Read on for the scoop...

Is it Okay to Record Online Music and Video?

If you grew up in the pre-Internet days, you probably remember recording songs from FM radio to cassettes, or saving your favorite TV shows on VHS tapes, to enjoy at a later time. The courts have ruled that these analog recordings are legal, as long as you are doing so for personal "time shifting," with no intention to sell or re-distribute the content.

But in the digital age, is it legal to save a copy of a movie that you watched on Netflix, a show on Hulu, or a song from your favorite streaming music service? Well, you can, but you’re not supposed to. Whether it’s legal to do it is a murky, unsettled question. Here’s the current state of the controversy.

Netflix (and all other subscription streaming services) definitely don’t want you to record their streamed content and then cancel your subscription. They most certainly don't want you to record a show and share it with the entire Internet. That would be the end of their business model if everyone did it. Every streaming service's terms of service includes a provision explicitly banning recordings as a breach of contract. Here’s Netflix’s “thou shalt not record” clause:

Legal to record from Netflix?

Section 6E of the Netflix Terms of Use specifies, “You agree not to archive, download (other than through caching necessary for personal use), reproduce, distribute, modify, display, perform, publish, license, create derivative works from, offer for sale, or use content and information contained on or obtained from or through the Netflix service without express written permission from Netflix and its licensors.” Hulu, Spotify, Pandora, etc., all have similar legalese that prohibits recording their content.

But a company called PlayOn.tv has been helping consumers record streaming media since 2011. It has apps for iOS and Android mobile devices, and a Windows desktop app. These apps allow you to record content from over 50 channels, including “any video from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Yahoo View, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, HBO NOW, HBO GO, PBS, The CW, YouTube, and Showtime,” according to the company.

PlayOn recordings can be stored locally or on PlayOn’s cloud repository; the latter costs $0.20 per stored file. PlayOn lets you skip commercials, further infuriating content creators and distributors. But Roku and other digital video recorders do that, too. The PlayOn service for desktop PCs costs $34.99 right now (regularly $69.99). That’s a one-time fee; there is no monthly subscription, and only the modest one-time fee for each file stored in the cloud.

A Gray Area?

PlayOn definitely is a breach of contract that would allow Netflix to cancel your account and ban you forever. However, streaming services have no way to tell if you’re recording what you stream from them. If you don’t "share" recorded content by uploading it to torrenting sites, it’s highly unlikely that you will ever be caught.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) criminalizes any circumvention of “digital rights management” software put in place by a content creator to prevent unauthorized copying. But PlayOn does not circumvent any DRM; it merely records what’s streamed to you.

Copyright case law protects a consumer’s right to “time shift” by recording streamed content for later viewing, as long as said viewing is for “personal, non-commercial use.” But what about on-demand video such as Netflix movies, which are already time-shifted for you? So far, the answer seems to be yes, you can, if only because no court has said otherwise. PlayOn notes that it has never been sued by content providers in its nearly seven years of existence.

But consider this extreme scenario: You sign up for free trials of Netflix, Hulu, etc., all you want. Program PlayOn to capture and save a lifetime’s worth of music and video for you. Then cancel your subscriptions before you have to start paying. That seems clearly wrong, but not technically illegal.

I think we’ll see some court cases about this in the not-so-distant future, and even some tricks from streaming providers that let them block apps like PlayOn. But for now, you won't go to jail for recording all seven seasons of The West Wing on Netflix, or 180 episodes of Seinfeld from Hulu. The worst that can happen is that you’ll be banned from those streaming services, and have to make peace with your conscience.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[LEGAL?] Record Streaming Video and Music"

Posted by:

27 Nov 2017

Make peace with your conscience for taping a show and watching it later?
I have absolutely no remorse when it comes to altering any broadcast media for my benefit.
I now pay for television (I once only had 4 channels, and watched all 4. Now I have access to 250 channels and watch about 10).
But, and it is a large but, I still am subjected to the same commercials that free television has/had.
So, with the advent of digital broadcast, I am forced to pay for what should be free because the broadcasters are still getting paid to advertise on their airings.
No remorse, just minimal justice.

Posted by:

27 Nov 2017

I agree with Joe. I pay for cable and it seems like one gets to watch snippets of the show in between a ton of commercials. Yesterday I streamed a show from my cable provider's service and at least four commercials at a time were thrown into my face throughout the actual documentary we were trying to watch. There was no way to continue watching without being subjected to this torture.

Would I have any moral misgivings? A big NO.

Posted by:

27 Nov 2017

Many years ago, before the Apple Store, I purchased some Kingston Trio songs through the web that were not on their usual CD's. Over the last several years, these paid for songs have become unplayable because Digital Rights have changed, and they are no longer recognized as legally purchased.Sigh, I will have to purchase them again.

Posted by:

27 Nov 2017

A number of years ago I bought a JVC machine to transfer VHS tapes to DVD. Primary for home movies I'd taken. Worked fine for that. I also had a large collection of movies that I had acquired over the years and I no longer had any other VHS machines. The JVC recorder wouldn't let me record these VHS tapes to DVD. I eventually gave the VHS tapes away. Rebought a few DVDs that I really liked - too much hassle to find a way around to record these tapes.

I now have an extensive collections of DVDs, usually bought for a few dollars. I have netflix and Amazon Prime, but don't have any desire to record streamed shows. I have over 200 rock LP albums to convert to digital on my round-to-it list. Some of the favorites I bought cds. I think for most people it's too much trouble, or maybe they, like me, will not live long enough to watch all the stuff on netflix, prime, or youtube. Maybe this is why it hasn't been a large problem.

I do understand your conscience statement. How many of us want to work for nothing. Our society feels it's ok to steal from the rich, but not everyone having their copyright material taken is rich.

Posted by:

27 Nov 2017

Joe: The ads pay for PART of the programming, you pay for part of it.

You made a contract to receive these shows and have decided in your personal interest to go back on your word.
Fine with me and they really don't care if you do it for your own use but don't try to justify it on the basis that you paid for it.

Posted by:

Jeff Ferguson
27 Nov 2017

I have been using PlayON for about 3.5 years and it works most of the time. Occasionally, I can't record some shows which then are reported to tech support and there is a remedy within 1-2 days. All recordings are in .mp4 format and carry the subscribers' user name and public IP address with the mention that it is strictly for private use. Thus, I don't see how this could potentially be illegal vs. a VHS recording. The streaming companies, i.e., Netflix, Hulu, etc., don't hold the copy-writ, they only pay a re-transmission fee.

Posted by:

27 Nov 2017

I spent a nearly THREE years of my life in the Great Basins and Ranges, mostly from NoECal through SEOre, SIda and NW and Central Nevada down to around Utah. It's a dusty region, it's filled with everything from small Mountain Ranges to mico particles of dust. And KUNR, (Call it 'NPR') doesn't reach that far out, besides my nearly $1k GPS receiver only worked when I was on a map I could read pretty well - about half of the time while I was out of some steep canyon - in other words, it's a kind of World To Itself. -- If it weren't for cassette tapes of NPR Classical (World) Music, and a few of CD's (I didn't know they really existed until I took a long working holiday to visit friends in Bezerkeley (and use their library), and the Bay Area, and even then I never would have known about them - I took about $500 to buy a few tapes and (MAYBE) enough blanks for replacements - only to find STORES FILLED)with CD's - cassettes on a SINGLE book shelf in a far corner of the store - and the ENTIRE REST STORE WAS ALL CD's!!!! -- (Ok, I DID fall off the pumpkin truck on that trip).

OK, so I was living and working at one college and getting a 2d Doc at a third so maybe it was ok that I had no idea that CD's were BIG. - I got Bob Dylans first album and I could hear his pick hit the strings!!!! - HotDamn! -- but I had to buy that once again in about 3 months because the dust and heat destroyed it. - did you know that the reflective side of a CD would PEEL OFF if left in an open cab of a truck for 3 days at 102°F?!! Or that it would start to skip inside of two WEEKS?

I didn't - so I went back to my boot box of cassetts all thrown together in a contained file (hit a bump and they all go out of order anyway, might as well save the energy for something else. If it weren't for those 'bootlegged' cassettes I'd have NOTHING to listen to during the day - or in the evening when I'd type up my field notes on my Olympia Portable (. Mostly I liked nights VERY quiet - think crickets at 1/2- 3/4 mile, think a burrow or mule at 3-5 miles keeping come coyote away from off spring or themselves.

The point here being that were I did that Doctorate today I would be paying as much for CD' to keep my dogs and I company as I did each semester for books.

What can be wrong with burning a copy for yourself an then playing it for your self? -- Or 'ripping' one off the air (net) - It still works the old fashioned 4-wire way, have your stream hooked up to your speakers -- toggle two switches that are hooked with alligator clips(portable way, or soldered stationary non-jurry-rigged way) - and simply hit the 'pause' on your recorder (because it was on pause next to the study table and typewritter) to turn it to 'record', flip the wires hooked to your speaker) and record what you want then hit pause, flip the switch and go back to what you were doing and listening to on-air pre-NPR FM classical (back then it was KPFA in Bezerkeley).

Early on DCMA only let me make x backups, till it quit. And I still can't play a CD out where I did my studies as I keep an eye on them every now and then. When my old 'stereo system' was stolen - receiver, pre-amp, amp, CD player, dual cassette (x2), and turn table (x2) - I quit - now I have a hokey system set up like when I was 10 years old and used reel-to-reel recorders - The loss of the ability to play music out in rough roads, no radio signal (A Satellite Radio was given to me by one of my students once because 'it didn't work' - (installed wrong) - is only useful about a quarter of the time, maybe half - because of the mountain ranges and steep canyons I have to drive down -- so it was no more use than a GPS - compass and a map was best, not setting a way-point for an hour or more will often take your trail right over a 500 foot cliff. Not playing music in the background will often make me pay more attention to the geography-biology of the road than the road and that 2 foot to 3 foot drop off, even if light sand and gentle worn slope can sure wake me up and scare the dogs!

Reasons for lots of backup copies!!!! - For me it'd have been 3 years of them for me on that Doc. But my desk top wouldn't let me download more than 3 copies of each CD - OR music that's not out on CD's- field recordings of 'world music' are basically grab them off the air -- or never get them again - Sure mass producing them should be illegal - remember the musician needs to get paid (I have many with CD's) and with NPR I'm a member (who helps pay the power bill and a way lot more) -- I don't see what has changed - so I make a 'mixed tape' for a friend or Mentor - BFD, I'd be glad to send the artist what few cents they get off that track, (or more if I really like them) - but I can't or like so many are dead. And, yeah, if you've been reading this, I am STILL stuck with a Cassette tape recorder for those trips, the µ-dust would rip a CD apart in weeks not months, and Cassettes do wear out, and not to be TOO facetious about it, but what are the 50 of us who still dive those roads gonna do for music?


If we had the bucks, yeah, we'd get cars or trucks with good AC and filtering systems -- but if we could afford those that ride over the roads like it was smooth as ice (except in the winter when they are, thus our love of dirt and gravel roads) - why on earth would we get the kind that can't take a wash-board without going 80-90 MPH when we have ALL lost control of our vehicles often more than once in our lives. We'd probably have jobs that paid a WHOLE lot more - (but that 10 miles between neighbors is a hard one to give up).

Are we gonna live our lives listening to some relay transmitter on a 12 hour loop telling us that Nashville is the home of Country-Western Music (when we all know they are two different generas growed up by tiny radio stations in pretty much the middle of nowhere and that 'country-western' doesn't include orchestras. I'll bet if they ever heard the roots of that music most people would run screaming from the room, much as they did in Paris in 1913 (?) when the Rite of Spring was first played so far is it from what they hear today and passes a 'classical music' (read 'Country Western').

I feel like Donald Trump took control of music recording several decades before he wasn't elected to the Office of the President of the United States. -- And NOW we want to give him rule over the Internet? Think of the damage he did when he couldn't do it - NOW think of the damage he can do to the Net-Web when he CAN do it. (And wasn't elected).

The problem is those that know gotta drive half a day to vote, and it's only 50 miles. So now we are stuck with the DCMA where it's suppose to make the artists richer, but doesn't really, just the companies - and did THEY go under when kids started to make reel-to-rell copies of Rock-n-Roll?

And one last question, about MCDA protecting the right of the artist to make a buck - When was the LAST time you could afford to see a Stones Concert? (yeah me too, BUT and a LOT of that $500 ticket [per person!!!] sure doesn't go into the cash-box of their recording company. But I'd bet my Old Land Rover Series IIa (with Salsburry hub) with a Capstan winch in front, Elec Drum in back - hot water shower off back, pull-out kitchen, and in dash hot water spigot for coffee -- that a LOT of their audience is because of illegal copies made while it was still easy. AND probably against the law at the time. - who'da thunk a reel-to-reel tape recorder was a gateway to a life of crime and the Cassette Recorder the 'gateway' to the use of Cannabis and LSD! (Don't DARE tell me kids didn't get 'high' off of early 'Little Richard' or Gerry Lee, or . . . . . )

Posted by:

28 Nov 2017

I don't watch TV at all. Don't know what's on, don't know what i'm missing, don't care.

But i listen to music a lot, at work and at home. The music i like is way off the beaten path. (The CDs of one of the groups carry a warning not to listen to them in the car, because you might fall asleep)

Pandora has been a great delight. By "thumbing up" my likes, it led me into directions and towards artists and groups that i never heard of, and probably would have never found otherwise. I never even think of recording them, because of the sheer number of songs that i heard from Pandora thus far; plus i would be stuck with those, and no longer be surprised by Pandora's new discoveries. I'll gladly pay them the $4.33/month to not have that bliss interrupted by an obnoxious commercial.

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