Beware of 'free' online movies

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Everyone loves a good movie, and with today's theater tickets costing more than 10 bucks a pop (and that doesn't include the "pop"), many moviegoers are opting to watch their favorite movies at home for free instead. "Free," however, comes with a cost, a cost that many consumers don't realize. The Better Business Bureau warns consumers against downloading "free" online movies.

According to researchers from cloud security provider Zscaler, movie sites such as www.letmewatchthis.com, www.letbobwatchthis.com, and www.movie-source.org look harmless when, in fact, they are luring consumers into a copyright-infringement trap. Sites such as these house hundreds of pirated movies, and by downloading them onto your computer you are committing a copyright infringement. It is ultimately your responsibility to ensure that the files you are downloading and sharing are legal copies.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, an individual who uploads or downloads online movies that are protected by copyright law without the authority of the copyright owner can be subjected to copyright infringement violations. Such cases can be considered liable for statutory damages up to $30,000 for each work infringed. If infringement is found to be willful, that amount can be increased up to $150,000 for each work infringed.

In addition, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the government can criminally prosecute you for copyright infringement. Fines up to $250,000 and/or a five-year prison sentence can result.

To avoid such risks, the Better Business Bureau recommends the following:

- Purchase all copyrighted works online using one of the many services that are authorized to sell copyrighted pieces.

- When evaluating services to decide whether they provide legal music and movie files, look for statements that say they have obtained the copyright permission of the artists or company representing the artists.

- Seek legal alternatives. The Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America can provide a list of some of the more popular legal online media sources.

Be careful when downloading digital files.

Illegal downloading places your computer at high risk of receiving viruses.

REACH KELVIN COLLINS, THE PRESIDENT/CEO OF THE BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU OF CENTRAL GEORGIA AND THE CSRA INC., AT (800) 763-4222 OR WWW.BBB.ORG.

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