Thursday, March 25, 2010

Watching copyright movies online free and legal

Let us state at the outset that the best way to see a film is in a theater, with other people, in the dark, with the best available projectors and sound system. That experience is still irreplaceable, which is being proven all over again with the 3D boom.

My next choice is to watch on a good large-scale monitor, which I treated myself to this past holiday season with a decent home sound system. I confess it, I'm a (late) baby-boomer, and I still like my entertainment to be "sit back" rather than "lean forward." I am more relaxed and patient in my cozy family room than I am in my home office, where I tend to work on my computer (although I do have a wireless modem).

But for many, and particularly many students, the best, or at least most convenient option is to watch films on a computer monitor, usually a laptop. Obviously, there are a lot of ways and places to watch movies online. Personally, as a teacher and a former copyright advocate I would never go near a torrent site, both for ethical reasons and because law enforcement types lurk there. But there are plenty of legitimate places to see feature films online, if that's your best available option.

First, every serious film student should know about The Internet Archive, which is a collective project to preserve the entire contents of the internet specifically and of the public domain generally. This includes books, audio programming, visual materials, everything that can be stored on a computer, including motion pictures.

Public domain films are a mixed bag, because they've generally become public domain through becoming old and/or neglected. Their materials are often in bad shape. But there are a large handful of genuine classics in the public domain, including His Girl Friday, The 39 Steps, My Man Godfrey and Night of the Living Dead, not to mention international classics such as M and Grand Illusion. But the Internet Archive has LOTS of films others than commercial features, including old educational and industrial films, home movies, commercials and mash-ups of the foregoing. And if you find something you like, it's very easy to download onto your computer or handheld device.

Even better, there are legitimate and legal places to see excellent copyright films on line, including serious classics. One is Crackle, which is evidently programmed by Sony Entertainment, parent of Columbia Studios. There's a lot of television and other ephemera, but just focusing on the complete feature films to be found here, there's All The King's Men, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Cat Ballou, Dr. Strangelove, Drunken Master, Fat City, Five Easy Pieces, Ghostbusters, Holiday, Hope and Glory, La Femme Nikita, Lady From Shanghai, The Last Detail, Living In Oblivion, The Mouse That Roared, My Best Friend's Wedding, Roxanne, Rudy, Stripes, Underworld U.S.A., Wild Things, and The Wrong Box. Some fun trash there too, including some Matt Helm, Kung Fu and Three Stooges movies.

The Online Video Guide is an index or pointer to a number of sites which permit the viewing of features (and a lot of other material) on line, including Hulu, Joost and Fancast. The legal status of a number of these is a bit gray, but if we are going to be practical, the risks belong to the websites, and if material is improperly posted, the chances are it will be taken down upon notice, under the provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

I urge my readers: don't just seek out the recent hits. That's like trying to live on a diet of ice cream and Twizzlers. The Internet is a buffet, so don't fill up on the first thing you see! Try some new things--you might even like them.

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