Section 106 of the Copyright Act sets up that TV episodes can only be streamed online with the consent of the copyright owners, explains the U.S. Copyright Office. If the owner of the streaming website does not have the copyright owner's permission, he cannot legally stream the content.
Based on testimony given to Congress, the Copyright Act gives copyright owners the right to authorize others to make copies of what they create, states the U.S. Copyright Office. If a TV show is allowed to be broadcast on a given website, the site's owner has effectively been given the right to make a copy of the original content. As a result, such streaming is legal.
Uploading or downloading content you do not have a license for is illegal, according to Christina Sterbenz for Business Insider. When you download even a section of a TV episode, for example, you are making a copy of the episode for your own personal use, which you do not have permission from the copyright owners to do.
Many websites get around this by aggregating linked streamed content, as opposed to hosting the content directly on their sites. The site the streamed content is hosted on is smaller. It is more difficult to find out who has actually broken the law, notes Sterbenz. Accessing streamed content, even when the stream is unlicensed, is generally legal. This means the person watching the TV episode is not breaking the law unless he downloads or uploads the content. As a result, most people who watch streamed TV episodes online are doing nothing wrong.