When you think about having the ability to share all of your personal media to practically any device, one of the first applications you should be thinking about, or using, should be Plex media server. It does a great job of curating your media and being able to provide it to a wide range of devices.
I was in the Plex media server support forums the other day and I was doing some research on a different topic when I came across a discussion about problems with Plex media server. The Plex tech support representative was glad to try to help the person that was having problems, but there was an interesting comment made about the problem that the user was having with performance. The Plex tech support representative told the user that if perhaps he didn’t have over 300 users connecting to his Plex media server he [possibly] wouldn’t have the problems that he’s having.
Unfortunately, I can’t find the support article to reference, but I found the circumstance under which the user was contacting Plex support very suspicious because if you have over 300 users connecting to a Plex server, you either have a lot of friends or you’re running your own private Netflix.
And that opens up another question— is it legal to share your media library with 300 people or would that be considered piracy?
Obviously, the intent of using the Plex media server is to share your media with yourself on mobile devices, virtually anywhere. But the Plex service offers the ability to share your media server content with other users who have Plex servers; this is encouraging users to share their libraries.
I think it’s important to take into perspective of how the Plex media server is being used:
- Sharing just for yourself
- Sharing for a small group of close friends
- Sharing for a large group of anonymous friends
Keeping in mind that the Plex does not track or store any information about the media libraries or the contents of individuals Plex media servers. Basically, Plex has no interest in knowing what is on your Plex media server, which I think is a good policy, but I also think it’s a point of protection; again, a good idea. There’s a potential there for misuse and it makes sense to provide some sort of disclaimer for using Plex.
The assumed use of using a Plex media server is to share your content. By the term of ‘your content’ meaning that it’s media that YOU have purchased. Unfortunately, I think that most people understand that music and videos can be downloaded from the Internet and stored on individuals hard drives which may not be completely legal. So if you are storing your media, and it’s not entirely legal, that would be considered illegal.
But if everything you have on your media server has been purchased, and it’s perfectly legal, I see no issues with sharing your media to portable devices. I have seen other websites/articles that argue that streaming content of any kind is illegal.
Your ‘Close Friends’
Building on the paragraphs above and extending into some of your close friends, I think that everyone has let a friend or family member borrow a DVD to watch a movie. I think it’s safe to say that’s exactly what you’re doing when you share your Plex media server with friends or family. You’re giving them the ability to watch/borrow videos or music; everyone has done this. I think it’s safe to say that anyone whose technology inclined would say that it’s absolutely easier to share your media library and stream the content to someone else’s TV as opposed to trying to encode video and put it onto a DVD; especially in a situation where you might be doing this more frequently going forward.
I think the problem comes in more predominantly when you have a larger number of ‘close friends’. My argument is that if I let someone borrow a DVD, only that person can watch the movie while it’s being borrowed, but with a Plex media server, multiple people can be streaming content at the same time and watching the same video. I think this is the biggest problem.
I think it’s the biggest problem because if you’re the owner of the DVD, you only own one copy of that DVD. You can’t lend out multiple copies of a DVD that you don’t have. From there, I would argue that if you have multiple people streaming content from your media server that action would be illegal. I would consider illegal because you are now sharing media content that has not been properly represented.
The ‘Anonymous Friends’
First off, I think the term ‘anonymous friends’ is ridiculous. I think it’s ridiculous because if you have 300+ anonymous friends connecting to your media server, you’re an incredibly lucky and stupid person. I have no idea why anyone would let anonymous connections to the media server without actually knowing the person face-to-face. I think that would just simply be a trust factor.
But in regards to the Plex support forum situation, I think that the individual who was asking for support on their Plex media server was, in fact, running their own private Netflix.
Clearly, the potential is there for media servers to be used outside their intended purposes. And if media servers can be used for services other than legal, people can think of ways to make money off that. It is my belief that this person is obviously downloading and storing media to his media server and then charging monthly fees for people to be able to stream content. Without a doubt, this is probably the worst scenario for any media server/streaming service.
It’s bad because media servers are absolutely useful, and they can be used in completely legal ways, but there are people out there who do not see it that way and they tend to exploit the intended uses of media servers. If something happens in the world of media servers where streaming content is holistically deemed illegal, it would be because of people misusing them.
So here’s the question, if you’ve got a media server running; how legal or justified do you feel about running/sharing your media with friend/family? Is it okay, is it borderline, or is it flat out illegal?
If you have any thoughts or opinions on this, let me know in the comments below…