As internet streaming grows worldwide, so too does the demand for unfettered access to television, shows and sports from around the world. Streaming services are slowly discovering viewers will do anything to skirt the various laws and region-blocks in place to watch their favourite shows.
IPTVs offer viewers access to TV channels and shows by circumventing many of the protocols in place, and are becoming a cause of stress for lawyers and streaming services around the world.
IPTV apps, boxes and web services operate in a grey area of international law, which calls into question what the legalities of using IPTVs are.
See also: Is Mobdro legal?
What is IPTV?
An IPTV is defined as any viewing platform or service that offers viewers access to films and television over the internet, rather than via cable or satellite. Technically, popular streaming services like Hulu and Netflix even come under the IPTV umbrella, although they aren’t typically referred to as such because they offer a different kind of service than the IPTVs in question.
IPTVs range from websites you can visit to watch films and tv shows, to physical IPTV boxes that stream the content directly to your TV, to apps available on the Google Play Store, too.
As you can see, there’s a lot of leeway when it comes to defining what an IPTV is, and what its primary purpose is, and this ambiguity allows the key brands, apps and web services to continue operating.
Is IPTV legal?
Put quite simply, yes.
Using an IPTV isn’t in itself a crime, but watching copyrighted is.
Content is dictated by international copyright laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Well-known IPTV streaming services like Hulu or Netflix all adhere to these laws, and will always ensure they own the content they’re distributing – or at least obtain a license to redistribute it.
This is where non-mainstream IPTV services differ – as they typically won’t have a license to stream the content to you. IPTV providers won’t explicitly tell you their service is illegal, but be aware that short of being fully-licensed to stream content to you, their services are almost certainly illegal.
Things get complicated from here, however. If you already own a subscription to a streaming service, then you can always claim you have the rights to stream content, regardless of where you get it from.
It is this technicality that allowed users to rip CDs onto their iPods via iTunes in the early 2000s. The consensus was that if (iPod) users had already paid once for the copyrighted content (in the form of a CD), then the technology they chose to enjoy their paid-for content was up to them.
It’s not clear if that consensus will neatly transfer for IPTV services, though. Rules also change depending on where you live. In the USA, it isn’t illegal to view content breaking DMCA laws, which is handy for IPTV users there. Again, there is no clear-cut definition of what is legal, and what isn’t.
In summary, IPTVs operate in a very grey area of the law. If you already own the copyright – via paying for a TV channel or owning a Bluray copy, for example – it could be argued that what you’re doing is similar to how Apple encouraged its users to rip their CDs into MP3 for their iPods. However, paying for access to an IPTV service, such a Helix, is likely very illegal. And as usual with new technology, the first high-profile court case against the use of IPTVs will likely set the tone for whether the CDs to iPod argument can be used in this scenario.
Are IPTVs safe?
A reasonable degree of caution should be exercised when it comes to exploring IPTVs. Fan-favourite IPTVs like Coke & Popcorn were notorious for the exhaustive bombardment of ads and popups to unverified third-party websites, which made using them a risk. Ensuring you have up-to-date antivirus software can always help protect you from any untoward websites you stray onto, while having an adblocker can help remove some of those pesky advertisements and popups that typically bombard you on arrival.
When it comes to IPTV boxes, like the ones you can purchase from Amazon, the hardware itself will be safe. However, things become less safe when you use the hardware to access non-mainstream IPTV services.
Of course, using reputable IPTVs like Netflix, Hulu and Neon are always going to be a safe bet. While they’re going to cost you a monthly subscription, the range and quality of shows and the security they provide you while you use them means they’re always a safe bet.
Using IPTV with a VPN…
If you’re worried about the safety of your IPTV provider, and the watchful eyes of ISPs and governments, VPNs offer military-grade levels of privacy for a few dollars a month.
VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks allow a user to mask their true location by disguising it in a server in a particular country (using end-to-end encryption), making it much more difficult to track down a user’s internet activity.
ExpressVPN ($6.66/month) to be the best VPN on the market… by a long way! If you don’t want a cheaper option, Ivacy ($1.16/month) and NordVPN ($3.49/month) are good low-cost alternatives. Check out our Best VPNs article to find out more.