There are literally hundreds of sites that allow you to download or stream your favourite programmes for little of 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?

Whether a movie is available to watch online for free is likely to depend on its copyrights status.

A film, in the same way as a book or music recording, is only protected by copyright for a certain period of time.

The exact length of time that a film is protected by copyright will depend 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 if applicable, 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' which 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 which offer movies and TV shows but you can't always be sure that what you're watching is legal.

The following sites are all approved by The Industry Trust , an industry body set up to protect the media industry from copyright infringement.

Indie Movies Online
Indie Movies Online offers a selection of films to watch online for free from countries across the globe.

You can rest assured that anything you watch on Indie Movies Online is legal as content is only available to watch if it's free from copyright in the country that you're viewing from.

Described as a home for online cinema, Jaman offers a mixture of free and pay-for movies that you can either stream directly online or download.

There is a wide choice of independent films and Bollywood movies included in the Jaman database.

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, usually not more than 2 weeks.

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 certain TV shows online for free while the current series if being shown on a BBC channel.

BBC iPlayer is funded through the TV licence although you don't 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 can't 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.

However, just because you pay to stream a movie, doesn't necessarily mean you are watching it legally, so make sure you are certain that the site you are using isn't breaking the law.

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.

Here are some of the most popular legitimate pay to view sites online:

Blinkbox is the UK's leading legal online TV and Film streaming site.

It currently has over 6,000 TV and film titles in its library. If you want to watch the latest films or TV programmes online, you will have to pay up to 3.49 to 'rent' them.

A digital entertainment channel, Coolroom allows you to purchase and download movies, TV shows and music.

It also has a rent feature, so you can pay to watch a film or TV show for a fixed time period.

A well known rental company, LoveFilm now allow you to stream TV shows and films online as part of their rental framework.

This means you can watch the latest DVD releases online for approximately 3, with older movies available from just 99p.

LoveFilm also offer a selection of free movies that its members can view online or download for no charge.

Use a legal search

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.

Find Any Film lists the cheapest places to watch films and TV shows online legally, including TV on demand sites such as BBC iPlayer and ITV player.

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.