What Is Illegal To Download in The UK?

a man downloading files from his laptop.

Illegal downloading in the UK can be very tempting. You are often just one click away from enjoying media for free that you might otherwise have to pay for. Before you click download, however, you should know the fines and even jail time associated with illegal downloading in the UK.

It is illegal to download movies, music, e-books, and other copywriter files without consent in the United Kingdom. The penalties vary based on the exact crime, but if you are found guilty of violating digital copyright law in the UK, the penalty can be upwards of 5 years in prison and a £5,000 fine.

It can be easy to blur the lines between what illegal downloading is versus what is legal. This article will list all the do’s and don’ts when it comes to downloading media in the UK. It

will make it crystal clear the type of downloading you should avoid in order to stay out of jail. Also read: Legality of torrenting in the UK.

Is downloading movies illegal in the UK?

Downloading movies off the internet can be both legal and illegal in the UK. In order to understand whether or not you are committing a crime, you need to look at the source of the movie you are downloading. 

Some subscription services, including Amazon Prime and Netflix, allow their members to download movies and TV shows for free as part of the subscription service. Some videos aren’t copywritten or allowed for others to download.

Usually, however, if you go to any random website to download a movie for free, that site is breaking the law. If you download the movie, then so are you. Films are considered intellectual property in the UK. 

According to the BBC, “the government estimates that all the intellectual property rights in the UK combined are worth more than £60bn.” Movies represent a considerable chunk of that money, and the British government has cracked down on some more major defenses.

While it’s illegal to download a movie without consent, it will not land you in jail. The company could potentially sue you to get their money for what you’ve essentially “stolen,” but prison is reserved for the highest offenders.

The worst offenses occur when you upload and distribute intellectual property, not just download it.

Keep in mind there are now several inexpensive ways to rent almost every movie legally. Amazon Video and iTunes both offer digital rental downloads. This is a very low cost and can save you the stress of breaking the law.

Besides that, VPNs are often recommended as a way to shield your online activities. NordVPN is the best provider out there.

Can you download music in the UK?

Downloading music in the UK also involves understanding what source you are using to download your music. Things can get even more complicated when it comes to music, as there are many apps, companies, and programs people use to get their music, many legal and some illegal.

The three most popular music platforms and streaming services are Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music, with Spotify being the most popular.

These music services allow you to both stream and download music on their platform. If you do this within their terms and policies and use your account, you are within the law.

Illegal music is when you use other websites or file-sharing services to download your music. While free music is available online, once you download it yourself without the artist’s consent, then you have violated the law in the UK. 

The main difference between subscription services in the UK and random miscellaneous forms of music downloading is that the artist has given Spotify and Apple Music permission to make their music available. In turn, the artist gets paid by these service providers. 

If you use an alternative means, you are getting something for nothing. This is, to put it simply, stealing. If you usually stream your music, but are uncertain whether the site you use is completely legal, you may want to use a VPN.

A VPN is a service you can download that allows you to make your IP address untraceable to your location. It, in effect, can bounce your signal. This can also be helpful if you are abroad in the UK but need access to a website that only works in the United States. 

You can set up a VPN and then stream music, which essentially takes the liability off your regard breaking any law. Additionally, a VPN like NordVPN can give you access to media only available in places outside the UK. Simply set up your VPN to the USA and have access to American-only content.

Can you download e-books in the UK?

E-books have also found their way into the illegal download area regarding intellectual property. One difference to consider is whether or not a site that is offering a free book download actually has the right to do so.

There are paid services where you can purchase and rent books and audiobooks like Kindle, Audible, and many others. These are all legal for the same reason the music platforms mentioned above are permitted – the artist gets a cut.

Some other books might appear to be free since they are available in a legitimate digital download form and are readily accessible online without lots of hoops or advertising. Still, just because a novel may not be as difficult or add-filled as the illegal free movies you have downloaded does not make it any more legal.

When it comes to downloading books, do not forget that your local library (both in the UK and if you are a library cardholder anywhere in the world really) can be a great resource for free book downloads.

Most modern libraries purchase a number of electronic book licenses, and these e-books are rented out just like a regular library book would get rented. The best part is there will never be a late fee because the book is simply returned when your time is up.

Another option, if you are looking to download a specific free e-book or audiobook, is to try one of the many e-book services for free. Almost all online book platforms (including Kindle Unlimited and Audible) usually offer free trials. Just don’t forget to cancel the trial in time, or you will get charged.

File-sharing in the UK

File sharing in the UK can be the most legally complicated when it comes to breaking digital intellectual property laws in the UK. In addition to the complexity, file sharing in the UK also carries a higher penalty than simply illegally downloading or streaming a type of media.

Before you get too alarmed, know that all normal file-sharing of non-copy written material is entirely legal. Sending photos, files, and things of that nature carry no penalty in the UK as long as the files themselves don’t contain illegal material (i.e., classified, illegally pornographic, etc.).

File sharing becomes illegal when you start sharing files with copyrights that do not belong to you. Many file-sharing methods use torrenting technology, using P2P (peer-2-peer). It’s a popular method of downloading free movies and music.

While downloading a P2P and using one is not illegal, it immediately becomes illegal once you download or upload a file that has a copyright. When you use a P2P, you may not even realize you are uploading files to others, but in essence, that is how P2P often works. 

While you can change your settings not to allow P2P programs to access specific files, this type of media sharing can be very risky. It comes with a higher penalty because if you are caught downloading something, that is a lower crime. 

If you are uploading something, then you are essentially distributing this media that doesn’t belong to you illegally. It’s a much larger criminal offense.

Can you torrent movies online in the UK without consequences?

Consequences of illegal file downloading in the UK

The effects of illegal file downloading in the UK can result in both monetary and criminal charges. If you are caught downloading copyrighted files, you can face fines of more than several thousand pounds. That is a lot more expensive than using a subscription service.

There are even more extreme penalties for those caught breaking the law in the most severe ways. If you are caught on the distribution side of illegal file-sharing, the fines can be upwards of 5,000 pounds, and you can face up to six months in prison.

The absolute consequence that can be thrown at someone found guilty of most criminal copyright offenses can be an unlimited fine and up to 10 years in jail. So perhaps it’s best just to rent the movie for a few pounds rather than worry about all the legal stress.

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