Streaming sites: how do you discern between legal and illegal alternatives, and what are the risks involved?

Do you already use streaming services? Or are you planning on acquiring a streaming subscription in the near future? Be aware of what you’re paying for, and what you should pay attention to before setting up your account.

What is streaming?

Streaming is an internet process used to send and receive media piecemeal.

During streaming these fragments of media are stored in the buffer of your laptop, tablet, smartphone or smart-tv. This ensures the next fragment of media is always ready to be read, listened to or watched. The content you can stream is stored on the server of the streaming service. The user can then let the media ‘stream on’ to the server of their own device, without ever becoming the legal owner of the content.

Apart from films, tv series, music and audiobooks, you can also stream live-transmissions to your device. The great advantage of streaming is that it uses less storage than an integral download.

The disadvantage of streaming is that you need a solid internet connection for the duration of the stream. Keep that in mind when you are travelling abroad, so you can avoid expensive roaming costs. Your streaming subscriptions are travelling with you.

Well-known examples of subscription-based streaming services are Netflix, Spotify, Deezer, Yelo Play, and Proximus Movies & Series. You pay a monthly subscription fee to use their services, but the content they offer is completely legal. Examples of streaming services that are completely free to use are VRT Nu, VTM GO and the free version of Spotify.

Illegal and fake streaming websites

Have you ever discovered a website that appeared legal at first glance, but was constantly trying to lure you in with flashy photos and trailers, and other attractive media content, offered completely free of charge? Did you register an account, but never received access to the promised content despite being billed for it?

Then you have probably registered an account at one of the many illegal streaming websites that try to disguise themselves as a bone fide competitor. Do not let them fool you! These websites will trap you in an unwanted subscription, and will only ever offer you pirated content, made available without the appropriate licenses. This makes the use of these websites illegal in itself, even if you are paying to access their content.

These are the associated dangers

  • Streaming pirated content is illegal and is considered an act of internet piracy itself.
  • You run the risk of receiving falsified and highly expensive bills, often charged to your account under false pretences, like the expiry of your ‘free trial period’.
  • You risk infecting your device with viruses and malware.
  • The streaming website might misappropriate your personal details.
  • Your children might be exposed to inappropriate content.

How do you recognize an illegal streaming service?

  • The website does not mention a company name, registration number, contact address, user agreement or privacy policy.
  • The website is rife with aggressive pop-up advertisements with dubious content.
  • There are no safeguards for minors – minors can easily create their own account.
  • The website shows advertising for movies that are still being shown in cinemas.
  • Advertisements for movies, music or other content that is still unavailable to other streaming websites.
  • The ability to upload your own content.
  • The website gives advice on how to circumvent government site blocks.
  • The website is not secure (http instead of https)

Check this before creating an account

  • Look up reviews and warnings online.
  • Can you reach the customer service?
  • Does the subscription button mention the cost of the subscription?
  • Can users upload their own content? This is highly suspicious.
  • Compare their offer with their competitors’. If it is too good to be true, it might be illegal.
  • If a search engine has banned the website, or if an internet watchdog warns against that website, you should exercise caution.
  • Do you have any lingering doubts about the website’s safety? Do the Web Shop Check of ECC Belgium.

Our advice: Always use your credit card to pay for online services! Should problems arise, you can always use the chargeback procedure of your credit card issuer, or contact the customer service of your payment service provider. By using your credit card, you also limit the amount of personal information the website’s owner will receive.

You have been scammed. What to do now?

  • Do not pay and do not let them intimidate you with so-called bailiffs or debt collectors.
  • Report them to the watchdog for internet crimes.
  • Report the incident to the police.
  • Do you have any lingering doubts about the legitimacy of their claims? Do you question the authenticity of a streaming website? Contact us for free legal advice.

The brochure “Safer Streaming” by the ECC-Net provides more in-depth information about the different kinds of streaming, their associated dangers and best practices.