Copyright protection laws don’t always involve technology, so it’s hard to say, generally, whether you can legally download television shows for any kind of purpose. Some legal analysts suggest that consumers clearly violate existing copyright laws. Others equated the practice with filming or recording broadcasts digitally for later personal viewing. Currently, the most common methods used to download programs are very similar to the file-sharing systems that are already being questioned in courts around the world. There are also legal ways to download TV shows, usually by purchasing individual episodes or full seasons from a company that has the legal right to redistribute the shows.
It is legal to use a DVR to download television programs for personal use in the United States.
The technology to download television shows – legally or not – is widely available, and sales of equipment that allow digital recordings have not been banned. Digital video recorder (DVR) devices allow users to record and save television programs and some even allow them to be transferred to a computer or burned to a DVD. These devices can also allow the user to pause live television and skip commercials in recorded programs with the press of a button. At least in the US, DVRs are under the same protection as VCRs (VCRs), with the user agreeing not to distribute the recorded material commercially and to have all viewing in a private home.
It is legal to download television programs from a company that has the right to distribute them.
With the advent of streaming video and broadband Internet services, however, the legality of downloading television programs has become less clear in many cases. Producing a prime-time comedy or drama can be a very expensive undertaking for network executives. Creative artists such as writers, directors and actors must be compensated for their skills, and technical expenses must also be recouped. While networks recoup many of these expenses by selling advertising, sometimes the profit margin is surprisingly small. When a TV show is downloaded from a file-sharing website, people who invest time and money in it are usually not compensated.
Making unauthorized copies of TV shows for friends is a form of copyright piracy.
There is also the issue of copyright, which aims to establish legal ownership of the program as a creative work. Whoever owns the copyright to the program has the right not only to make money from the program, but also to reproduce and broadcast it. When someone copies a program without the owner’s consent and makes digital copies available, they are usually violating copyright.
At least in the US, it’s legal to use a DVR to download television shows for private viewing. In the sense of copyright law, it may be illegal to download programs from any source not authorized by the legal owners of those programs to distribute that content. A person can legally download TV shows offered through services authorized and licensed by the owners. Most major broadcast networks in the United States now also have websites that stream select episodes of shows to viewers.
Streaming services allow people to download programs from the Internet to play them directly on their TV.