Is IPTV Legal to Use?

By Greg Martinez / May 22, 2020
is iptv legal

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Freedom is one of the many great things that the internet has brought with it. You’re free to watch anything you want, anytime you want it. If you simply can’t find the time to catch your favorite shows at the specific time they air on television, IPTV is an effective solution to this problem.

So, what exactly is IPTV? How does it work? And, more importantly, is IPTV legal to use? This guide explores the answers to these questions.

What Is IPTV?

Let’s start with the basics. IPTV is short for Internet Protocol Television. Anytime you come across the term “Internet Protocol,” you know it’s referring to something that’s being communicated over the internet. IPTV, in this case, refers to television transmitted using the internet protocol.

To understand why this is different from regular television, you first need to know how regular non-IP TV works.

With satellite or cable television, network broadcasters transmit signals to viewers on a specific frequency. Anyone who tunes into these frequencies or “channels” receives these signals through their televisions to watch what’s being broadcast.

You have no control over what’s on. So, you have no choice but to tune in and watch whatever’s showing. You can record the specific shows you want to watch at the specific times they air to watch them later when it’s most convenient for you.

IPTV works differently. In satellite and cable television, signals are transmitted through radio waves via satellite and light pulses in fiber-optic cable lines, respectively. IPTV, on the other hand, transmits shows and movies via your standard internet connection.

These shows aren’t broadcast on any time-shifted media or specific schedule. You simply choose what you want to watch from your provider’s catalog, and you’re good to go.


At this point, the explanation sounds a lot like what YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video offer, right? Well, not exactly. They don’t constitute “IPTV” in the strict sense of the word. These types of streaming services are called OTT, which is short for “Over the Top.”

Both IPTV and OTT deliver content to end-users through the internet, but the difference between the two boils down to the mechanism that each of them uses to do this. OTT doesn’t require users to subscribe to a traditional satellite or cable pay-tv service like AT&T or Time Warner Cable. Instead, it is delivered through the public internet.

In IPTV, however, the service provider uses its own dedicated managed network infrastructure and equipment to deliver content. Since most televisions aren’t designed for IPTV, you would have to get a set-top box to convert the content received over an IP into a form that your TV can interpret. This allows you to access channels like HBO, CBS, Fox Network, Showtime, etc.

IPTV providers work with these channels to deliver time-shifted or catch-up TV content to viewers. They may or may not provide video-on-demand content. OTT providers work with production houses to acquire and deliver on-demand content. They typically also have options to stream TV channels live.

How Does IPTV Work?

IPTV is typically delivered in one of three formats. These are detailed below.

1. Video-On-Demand

This IPTV flavor is all about getting the content you want to watch when you want to watch it. As long as your streaming service owns this content, you can “demand” to watch it any time.

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You’re probably familiar with this kind of set up in internet video-streaming sites like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. (Well, they are all technically OTT providers, but you get the idea).

3. Time-Shifted Media

This second IPTV flavor is a lot like catch-up TV, where you get to watch all the shows you might have missed earlier. While video-on-demand content is available indefinitely, time-shifted media has a very specific window of time within which you can watch the content.

Once this period elapses, the IPTV provider removes it from their selection. In short, the main difference between video-on-demand content and time-shifted media all boils down to the shelf-life of each.

3. Live IPTV

This format of Live IPTV is perhaps the most similar to conventional broadcast television. You get to watch your favorite shows live. This is ideal for certain types of content, like sporting events you want to watch in real-time.

The only difference between traditional satellite/cable TV is that live IPTV comes to you via the internet. Some great live IPTV channels worth checking out include CBS Sports HQ, FOX Sports Go, and Hulu Live TV.

Is IPTV Legal?

Now that you know what it is and how it works, the real question is – Is IPTV legal? To answer this, you first need to understand the equipment required for IPTV.

Remember when I mentioned that IPTV requires its own dedicated managed network infrastructure and equipment to deliver content? Here’s the equipment you would require to access this network.

1. Set-Top Box

This is the device required to decode and decrypt the video-on-demand content and TV streams coming from the service provider’s dedicated network. It’s a must-have for your TV to interpret the signals sent from the service provider.

2. Router

The content received via your set-top box needs to be coming from somewhere, right? That’s where a router comes in.

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It allows your set-top box to connect via WiFi to the service provider’s network to receive content. Once the router is online, the set-top box sends requests to or “demands” content from the network’s central servers.

3. Television

At the risk of stating the obvious, you’ll need a TV to view the content delivered to you.

Here’s Where Things Get a Little Sketchy

The set-top box is the main interface the viewer has with the service provider. It’s sort of like the receiver used for satellite TV viewing. It’s what allows you to view the content on offer and then “demand” it.

Set-top boxes come preprogrammed by the service provider allowing you to tune into your favorite channels once your router’s all set up. The alternative to the set-top box is viewing IPTV content using your PC. Computers can decode the data packets they receive via IP. Televisions, on the other hand, cannot.

Now, access to this type of content, whether through a set-top box or directly through IP, requires users to subscribe to the service. They have to pay a fee to access this premium content. This is all perfectly legal.

Some rogue developers, however, tamper with set-top boxes by installing illegally configured add-ons that allow users to access premium content for free. Doing this breaches several copyright laws making it 100% illegal to watch IPTV this way.

Let’s put it this way. Anytime you’re accessing and watching premium content for free when you should otherwise be paying for it, what you’re doing is against the law.

So, is IPTV legal? Yes, if you have a set-top box from a legit IPTV service provider and are paying a subscription fee to access content through it. There’s a caveat, though.

While you might be paying a monthly fee to access content through the set-top box, the box itself should not be loaded with any third-party add-on that allows you to access third-party content illegally. In such instances, both the set-top box owner and the vendor who sold it to them are operating on the wrong side of the law.

How Much Trouble Can You Get Into for Illegal IPTV Streaming

Streaming content illegally is a prosecutable offense. The reason why you probably haven’t come across anyone who’s been put in handcuffs for streaming premium content illegally has a lot to do with just how widespread the users are.

This makes it difficult for copyright owners and the IPTV service providers to go after them. It is, however, a lot easier to catch up with the rogue vendors since the payment methods they use to accept subscription fees are easily traceable.

Hypothetically, if your ISP caught you illegally streaming premium content, they would first give you a legal warning in the form of a Cease-and-Desist order.

If you decided to ignore this and continued to stream the content anyway, then it is well within their rights to withdraw their internet services and alert the authorities, which may eventually lead to your prosecution.

Additionally, illegal IPTV streaming leaves your devices vulnerable to getting hacked by cybercriminals or getting malware installed on them. A security breach of this kind might cost you more than you bargained for.

The Future Is Bright for IPTV

IPTV has emerged as the most preferred way to consume videos-on-demand, time-shifted media, and live content compared to traditional methods of broadcast television. So, is IPTV legal? Absolutely!

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As long as you’re using a legit set-top box from a legit IPTV service provider, then you’re well within the law.

If, on the other hand, you’re using one with piracy configured add-ons installed, that allows you to access otherwise premium content for free, then in such instances, this type of IPTV is illegal. I trust that this guide has shed some light on this.

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