Can you watch free films and TV online?

Yes, hundreds of sites let you download or stream your favourite programmes for little or no charge, so 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 completely.

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 surviving director, screen writer or 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 you stream video online?

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

This means 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

There are several legal websites that let you stream series and films for free:

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

  • YouTube offers free TV episodes and films, although you'll have to put up with adverts.

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

  • Snag Films offers a range of free independent films and documentaries.

  • Internet Archive offers black and white classic films, and Westerns.

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 the law.

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 allows you 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, so you will need a valid licence to stream shows or films.

ITV Player, 4OD & Demand Five

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 programmes 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.

Amazon Instant Video

Amazon's Instant Video service allows you to pay to rent or buy thousands of 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.