Is Using a VPN to Stream Shows and Movies Legal?

Due to the fact that VPNs are an effective way to hide your online activity from certain prying eyes, a common assumption is that their use might not be legal.

There’s a good chance that if you’re reading this, VPNs are legal in your country of residence, but that doesn’t mean there are no restrictions on what you can and cannot use them for.

In this piece, we’ll talk about some common questions surrounding VPNs and streaming video using a VPN — mainly, is it legal?

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, allows you to privately access an online server, even if you’re on a public network. It encrypts your data, hides your location, and lets you browse the Internet in a way that not even your Internet Service Provider can track your online activity.

VPNs are reliable solutions for remote work, protecting sensitive financial information, and more, but one of the most common uses is streaming video.

Why Streaming VPNs Are So Popular

First, VPNs protect users’ privacy on the web. Any time you’re entering passwords or sharing any kind of sensitive data on an unsecured network, it’s always a good idea to use a VPN and ensure that the data you’re transmitting stays encrypted.

Second, the largest streaming services — Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and the like — restrict content in some countries. If you’re in the UK, for example, you may not be able to access the same movies and TV shows as your friends in the U.S. So what do you do? You use a VPN with a server in the United States, and fool the streaming site into thinking the server’s IP address is your own, giving you full access to a new menu of entertainment options.

Is Using a VPN to Stream Legal?

First, is it legal to use a VPN in general? In most countries, the answer is yes. There are only a handful of governments that have explicitly outlawed the use of VPNs, including China, Russia, North Korea, and a few others.

Assuming that you’re not in one of these countries, using a VPN — and more specifically, using a VPN for video streaming — is entirely legal.

But here’s where it gets complicated. As a general rule, anything that’s illegal to do on the Internet without a VPN is also illegal to do with a VPN. However, there’s a difference between something being explicitly illegal and in violation with a given streaming service’s terms of use.

Is It Legal to Use a VPN to Watch Netflix?

Even though using a VPN to stream content that’s legally available is allowed in the U.S. and most other countries, it may violate the rules of some streaming services. Let’s look at one of the most popular services on the global scale: Netflix.

In 2016, Netflix announced that it was cracking down on the use of VPNs, despite the fact that in the company’s terms of use, the language is ambiguous: “You may view Netflix content primarily within the country in which you have established your account and only in geographic locations where we offer our service and have licensed such content.”

While this strongly implies that users may not access content intended for users outside of a certain geographic area, the terms don’t include language explicitly against using a streaming VPN.

Other streaming services vary in their policies surrounding VPNs, but it’s important to note: even if using a VPN to stream video content is against the rules of a specific site, that doesn’t mean it’s not legal.

What About “Illegal” Streaming?

When we get into some of the more esoteric discussion about the legality of using a VPN, we can really only address how things are handled in U.S. law.

You might think that using a VPN to stream content that’s protected by a copyright is illegal. In reality, precedent in a number of American court proceedings have established that viewing this content is perfectly legal, as long as it’s not downloaded or hosted on a personal server.

Of course, the owners of this type of content have a right to remove it from any sites that would traditionally be considered “illegal streaming”, but it’s legal for you, the person streaming the content, to watch (with or without a VPN).

Not All VPNs Are Created Equal

We’ve covered the fact that using a VPN to stream videos is, in fact, legal, but not all VPNs are optimal for streaming in high-definition. This is where you’ll want to make sure you’re using a high-quality VPN that won’t slow down your connection and will provide you adequate bandwidth for video streaming. Always conduct due diligence before selecting a provider to stream your favorite content with.

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CEO at VPN.com — The worldwide leader in VPN research

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Michael Gargiulo

Michael Gargiulo

CEO at VPN.com — The worldwide leader in VPN research

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