Is It Illegal to Download Movies for Free Online?

Downloading a movie for free, even through peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent or Limewire, constitutes copyright infringement under the Copyright Act of 1976. This law protects movies, music and literary works from reproduction and use without the permission from the copyright holder.

Although the practice of downloading movies is widespread, there are penalties for downloading illegal works. Federal copyright law provides for penalties that range from $750 to $30,000 for each download. Courts have sometimes penalized individuals even more for illegal downloads of copyrighted works. For instance, a woman in Minnesota was fined $80,000 per song for illegally downloading 24 songs, for a total fine of $1.9 million.