Facebook ‘Watch Party’ feature is popular with pirates for movies, shows

Facebook’s new video-streaming feature, Watch Party, is a big hit, bringing together users from across the globe. There’s just one problem: Some are using it in ways that Facebook didn’t intend, and that are almost certainly illegal.

Launched to all users in November, Watch Party lets users “host” video-watching events with friends and others on the site, letting them watch simultaneously and comment or react in real time to what’s on the screen.

But it has also proved hugely popular with pirates, Business Insider found, with users flocking to the feature to broadcast copyrighted movies and TV shows to strangers across Facebook.

We found that illicit watch parties were a frequent occurrence on the social network, broadcasting a range of media, from relatively recent hits like “Her” to cinematic classics like “Mean Girls” and vintage TV shows like the original “Twilight Zone.”

Facebook users chat as they watch a rerun of a Gordon Ramsay cooking show.

Groups have sprung up to host these watch parties, with names like “Super Film Club Watch Party” and “Watch Party Cinema,” that often have hundreds or even thousands of users and make no attempt to hide their purpose.

“Watch Party Central Movie Lovers Unite” openly billed itself as “a place for movie lovers to enjoy movies together for free and discuss the films,” while another group said: “It is simple the way the Game works. Every Friday a member picks a movie and we all watch it. We will then discuss the film and rate the film under the Rotten Carl Score post for the film.”

The watch parties also sprang up in unrelated groups as a way to bring members together. “It’s 2005 and this is cool as hell” is one example of a group that hosted these events nearly constantly, to which Facebook’s automatic notifications then alerted its nearly 119,000 members.

After Business Insider reached out to Facebook for comment, the company took down the groups listed above.

Facebook users watching an illicit version of the old Nickelodeon show “Drake & Josh” and discussing it.

In a statement to Business Insider explaining the group takedowns, a Facebook representative, Carolyn Thomas, said: “We devote significant resources to address and prevent piracy for all videos on Facebook, including in Watch Parties. We have several measures in place to address infringing content, including our notice-and-takedown program, repeat infringer policy, Rights Manager, and use of Audible Magic.”

She added: “We take prompt action against IP infringement when we become aware of it, and disable the accounts of repeat infringers when appropriate. In this instance, the Groups have violated our Community Standards on Intellectual Property and have been removed.”

Still, not all Watch Party groups are necessarily engaged in copyright infringement: Facebook has the rights to broadcast cult-hit TV shows “Buffy,” “Angel” and “Firefly,” meaning that it’s entirely on the level to organize a communal Watch Party around them — and at least one group we saw is dedicated to doing exactly that for “Firefly.”

However, Facebook has a long history of copyright infringement on the platform. In 2018, Business Insider reported that its groups were widely used for sharing pirated rips of popular movies, with some growing to hundreds of thousands of members on the back of such material.

And content creators have for years complained about “freebooting,” when nefarious users rip copies of their video from other platforms like YouTube and then upload it on Facebook without their permission.

A user organizing a watch party and advertising it to other group members.

Facebook’s stated mission is “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” but Watch Party’s adoption by pirates illustrates that the company’s features for building “community” aren’t restricted to virtuous uses. And more than that, it represents a notable shift in the evolution of piracy.

Historically, this kind of copyright infringement has, for most people, been a fundamentally solitary activity — one person’s decision to download a specific video or stream a movie. Any piracy-focused forums or chat groups were largely adjacent to the illegal activity, rather than a core component of it.

But Watch Party introduces a social aspect to piracy, without requiring any technical know-how from users. It turns piracy into something like a communal TV-viewing experience, with users chatting about the copyrighted content as it plays, connecting with one another in the comments, or even establishing threads to discuss what they should watch together next.

Facebook users chatting as they have a “scary-movie night.” After they finished “Insidious: The Last Key,” they moved on to “Don’t Knock Twice.”

Facebook has previously tried to wash its hands of content infringement. When Business Insider reached out to the company in 2018 about piracy-focused groups, it declined to take them down, saying that unless rights-holders complained, it couldn’t be sure that the videos were being shared illegally — even when they were clearly recorded in cinemas by people using handheld cameras.

Got a tip? Contact this reporter via encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 (650) 636-6268 using a non-work phone, email at [email protected], Telegram or WeChat at robaeprice, or Twitter DM at @robaeprice. (PR pitches by email only, please.) You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.


more recommended stories

  • Frywall review: game-changing splatter guard reduces mess of cooking

    Crispy bacon is an indulgence as.

  • Ravelry, a social network for knitters, bans support for Donald Trump

    Ravelry, an online knitting community with.

  • Kellyanne Conway could be forced to testify over Hatch Act violations

    The House Oversight Committee has been.

  • Summer solstice: Stunning photos of people celebrating around world

    The northern hemisphere celebrated its summer.

  • Inside Amazon’s growing ad business: Everything we know

    Amazon is increasingly taking on Facebook.

  • Democratic primary voters prefer Green New Deal over Joe Biden’s plan

    Democratic voters might be more progressive.

  • 8 best-selling phone grips on Amazon — all under $15

    Like a Spotify Premium membership or.

  • VW Beetle Final Edition SEL: review, photos, features

    Well, it’s over. Volkswagen has decided.

  • Disney announced movies through 2027

    Walt Disney Studios plans on keeping.

  • US Senate Banking Committee to hold hearing on Facebook’s Libra

    The US Senate Banking Committee plans.

  • Best Apple design details you probably never noticed before

    Thoughtful design has always been at.

  • 10 maps show how much LGBTQ rights vary around the world

    Last week, Ecuador’s highest court issued.

  • Chick-fil-A is now the 3rd-largest US restaurant chain

    Chick-fil-A has whipped past rivals to.

  • Iran breaks from nuclear deal, makes confrontation with US more likely

    Iran sent shockwaves through the global.

  • Grueling Himalayan effort to retrieve bodies of avalanche-hit climbers

    MUMBAI (Reuters) – Two weeks after.

  • The best kids’ toothbrush of 2019

    You know the old refrain: Good.

  • Target cash register outage leaves frustrated customers across US

    Target faced massive technical difficulties on.

  • Conor McGregor warned by a boxer managed by Mark Wahlberg

    Conor McGregor has been warned by.

  • Now is the best time to buy an Apple Watch

    The Apple Watch is an incredible.

  • Horror movies from the 2000s that are often forgotten

    No one will argue that horror.

  • Toilet paper rolls: The over-vs-under debate explained

    When you walk into the bathroom,.

  • How to change a Samsung Galaxy S10’s screen resolution

    Measuring 6.1 inches and featuring a.

  • McDonald’s doubles down on deals and inexpensive food

    McDonald’s is determined to win over.

  • 10 plot holes and inconsistencies you might have missed on 'Parks and Recreation'

    While highly praised by critics, NBC’s.

  • There’s no best diet: Bodies respond differently to the same foods

    There are many different ways to.

  • Bernie Sanders calls immigration surge a ‘serious problem’

    Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen..

  • ‘Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’: Everything we learned at E3 2019

    On Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles,.

  • Last nun fighting Katy Perry over LA convent: she has ‘blood on her hands’

    The last living nun of the.

  • Katherine Schwarzenegger married Chris Pratt in a California ceremony

    Katherine Schwarzenegger and Chris Pratt took.

  • 4 military phrases that civilians should start using

    Granted, that phrase has several meanings,.

  • Many Uber and Lyft drivers required food stamps because of low pay

    A lengthy article by transportation industry.

  • Trump tweets the moon ‘is a part’ of Mars, criticizes NASA spending

    President Donald Trump on Friday posted.