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14 Illegal Things You’re Doing on the Internet

  • Iphonejailbreak

    1. Unlocking Your Phone

    As of January, it’s illegal to unlock your phone to use across various carriers. However, jailbreaking, or the process of removing limitations on iOS to allow for certain downloads and customization, is still technically legal.

    Even when your contract with a specific carrier expires, it’s still unlawful to unlock your phone by yourself using third-party methods, under a new ruling from the Library of Congress in January. If you want to switch carriers, authorized unlocking by an authorized carrier is still legal.

    Basically, you can’t unlock your phone yourself, but you can let AT&T or Verizon do it for you legally.

  • Grooveshark

    2. (Parts of) Grooveshark

    The seemingly innocent (but always glitchy) Grooveshark has experienced numerous run-ins with the courts. The music streaming service has been sued by record labels such as EMI. Even though the service has settled some charges with certain record companies, many of Grooveshark’s tracks are still available to stream illegally.

  • Adblocker

    3. Ad Blockers

    Though they may be annoying, those pesky banner, pop-up and in-stream ads that crawl the web are (surprise!) actually paying for the content you are viewing for free. By bypassing these ads, it’s almost like not paying the fare to view the content, and in some cases, ad-blocking may be illegal. For certain sites, there’s potential for billions of dollars in losses each year, due to visitors not actually seeing advertisers’ messages.

  • Qrcumiy

    4. Making GIFs and Memes

    Believe it or not, it’s illegal to use copyrighted material without permission. Though it’s legal to parody copyrighted material in the vein of criticism, lifting copyrighted material straight from the source is illegal. However, it’s almost impossible to prosecute GIF-making (looking at you, Tumblr users) because of its wide distribution and murky original sourcing.

    Image: Imgur, bonacheeta
  • Saveimage

    5. Downloading Files and Using Without Permission

    An obvious one, it’s actually illegal to just pull any old JPG, PNG, PDF or any type of file you’d find from a simple Google search. It’s fine to view them online as is, but once you download that image of a cat you’re Googling, you have the power to distribute it to your liking, and that’s where it becomes illegal. The exemption, of course, is if you are granted specific permission from the owner of the file, or if the material has a fair use license.

  • Travel

    6. Working Remotely on a Travel Visa

    “Working remotely on a travel visa” may be as simple as checking your work email while you’re on vacation abroad. A blurry line to cross, for some countries it is illegal to work within said country but be paid by another. For example, if you’re an American citizen working remotely for an American company, getting paid by this American company and paying taxes to the United States, it may be illegal for you to work remotely in the United Kingdom on vacation without a work visa.

    Image: Flickr, One-Fat-Man
  • Wifi

    7. Connecting to Unsecured Wi-Fi networks

    Look over your shoulder the next time you hop on that Starbucks Wi-Fi from across the street. Even though the network’s there for the taking, authorized usage of Wi-Fi networks could be counted as illegal under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which applies to wireless routers.

    Image: Flickr, Sean MacEntee
  • Screen-shot-2013-08-21-at-5-34-17-pm

    8. VPN and IP Address Loopholes

    Abroad and can’t stream Netflix? Screwing around with VPN to make your IP address look like you’re in America is one way to circumvent this issue. Of course, it’s not technically legal, and the urge to binge-watch TV shows doesn’t help either.

  • Hbo

    9. Sharing Subscription Passwords

    Of the millions who subscribe to HBO Go and Netflix, about one-third admit to having shared passwords before. Freeloading on these services isn’t hard, and in fact, studies have shown that password-sharing has helped bring new customers to these companies.

  • Parodyaccount

    10. Parody Accounts

    You aren’t permitted to operate parody accounts on Twitter without clearly labeling that it’s “fake.” Under its terms and conditions, Twitter does not allow its users to impersonate others. So, as obvious as it is that @Bill_Nye__Tho (which is legal because it correctly labels itself as not real!) isn’t actually @TheScienceGuy, Twitter fears some poor being out there might actually misidentify. It’s also against Twitter’s policy to squat on usernames, a precaution against bots and spam.

  • Facebook

    11. Underage Facebook Accounts

    If you read Facebook’s terms and conditions, the social network does not allow anyone under the age of 13 to register for or operate an account. Not that this is stopping many middle-schoolers.

  • Domainname

    12. Registering Trademarked Domain Names

    Think again the next time you’re looking to sit on a domain name before a company gets to it. That business could have the right to sue in the court of law, even though you got there first.

  • Paywall

    13. Bypassing Paywalls

    Though it’s as simple as a few Google proxy servers, bypassing paywalls is just another way to get content you’re supposed to pay for without actually coughing up the cash.

  • Youtube

    14. Uploading Copyrighted YouTube Content

    Probably the oldest hack in the book, uploading copyrighted material to YouTube is, you guessed it, illegal. But when there’s just too much for YouTube to handle, you’re still bound to find that ’90s Simpsons rerun somewhere in the depths of YouTube — before mods take it down, that is.

Show As Gallery


By Denise Lu

We’ve all done it. One day it’s pirating an album, the next day it’s streaming movies from a sketchy site. Of course, we know all these things are illegal.

But what about the other illicit activity you’re engaging in online? Some may not be as obvious as you’d think.

Criminal activity may be as simple as installing an ad blocker or hopping on an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Though they may seem banal, some things we do every single day are technically counted illegal in the court of law.

Even if the likelihood of getting caught is slim for some activities, practice caution in the future. Take a look at our gallery above and think twice the next time you download a random image from a Google search.

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