Hundreds of sites allow you to download or stream your favourite programmes for little or no charge, so if you want to watch TV and movies online you have plenty of options.

However, many of these sites could be breaking intellectual property laws that protect the media industry from people distributing their work without permission.

Stream a film from an illegal source and you could receive a warning letter from your service provider and even face your internet speed being clipped or blocked all together if you are deemed to be a frequent offender.

Yet there are several sites that do offer movies and TV shows for free without breaking the law, here are some of the best places to legally watch films and TV shows online.

Is watching free movies or TV online legal?

Films are only protected by copyright for a certain period of time, depending on when and where it was originally published and the country in which you live.

  • Under UK copyright law, a film is protected for 70 years from the death of the last to survive out of the director, the screen writer and the original musical composer.

  • Once this period has expired, the film is considered as being in the 'public domain' and can be distributed freely.

  • As a result, most of the films that can be legally streamed online for free tend to be 'classic movies' that are no longer protected by copyright laws.

If a film or TV show is still protected by copyright then the website must have permission to distribute it.

Where can I stream video online?

There are hundreds of different websites that offer movies and TV shows but you cannot always be sure that what you're watching is legal.

The Industry Trust is an industry body set up to protect the media industry from copyright infringement.

If you are struggling to find the movie or TV programme you want to watch online then you can search for it directly using a content search engine like FindAnyFilm.com, which lists the cheapest places to watch films and TV shows online legally.

This means that you can quickly find if there is a free stream available or if you will have to pay to watch your film online.

Other sites to try

  • Jaman offers a mixture of free and pay-for movies to stream or download, including a wide choice of independent films and Bollywood movies.

  • The British Film Institute offers classic and contemporary global cinema and documentaries, including free films.

  • Viewster offers a wide range of free series and films from around the world.

TV on demand

One of the best and easiest ways to watch TV and films online for free is to use the on-demand services run by the major UK TV channels.

Each allows you to stream copyright protected content for free without breaking any laws.

However, the main catch with TV on demand services is that movies and shows are only available for a limited time after their original broadcast.

BBC iPlayer

The most well known catch up TV service, BBC iPlayer was launched in December 2007 and allows users to catch up on a variety of TV shows and films previously broadcast on any of the freeview BBC channels.

It also has a series catch up feature which means you can watch all the previous episodes of some TV shows online for free. BBC iPlayer is funded through the TV licence, although you do not have to hold a licence to use it.

ITV Player, 4OD & Demand Five

The other terrestrial channels; ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 all operate catch up TV services which can be viewed for free online.

The main difference between the other TV on demand services and BBC iPlayer is that they are partially funded by advertisements, embedded in the programs just like the TV channels themselves.

Pay for sites

If you cannot find the film or TV show you want to watch or would like to choose from a more extensive list, then you may need to pay to view it online.

Many pay to view sites also offer free trials or welcome credits, so you may be able to watch for free and then cancel before having to pay a subscription fee.

The Content Map includes links to many of the most popular legitimate pay to view sites online.

Blinkbox

Blinkbox lets you rent or buy the range of TV and film titles in its library. You can either download or stream their videos.

Amazon Instant Video

Amazon's Instant Video service allows you to pay to rent or buy more than 50,000 TV shows and films online.

Alternatively, an Amazon Prime membership includes more than 15,000 TV episodes and movies as part of the annual subscription.

Netflix

Netflix also offers a wide range of films and television programmes available to stream if you pay a monthly subscription.

NOW TV

NOW TV offers thousands of movies and TV shows that you can stream on your laptop, TV, tablet, phone or console. You can pay a monthly subscription to watch sports, movies or entertainment.