What Is Terrarium TV? (and Is it Legal?)

Who doesn't love the prospect of unlimited free TV and movies? That's the sales pitch behind the free Terrarium TV service, which strikes me as very dubious when it comes to its legality. And legal experts agree.

What is Terrarium TV?

Imagine you could sign into Netflix, without an account, but it had a breath-taking library of modern, ongoing popular content. And that you didn't need an account, and you didn't need to pay a monthly fee either. That's Terrarium TV, which offers everything from FX's Legion to HBO's Westworld, and even Solo: A Star Wars Story and Deadpool 2.

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Wait, aren't those movies still in theaters?

Yep. So, while the site https://terrariumtv.co/ claims Terrarium is "is completely legal," my first doubts arose when I saw it linking to movies you can't find on any major streaming service.

How does Terrarium TV work?

The first sign that Terrarium TV isn't above-board is the fact that you need to sideload it onto an Android device. Sideloading, if you're not familiar, is the act of installing a program from a source other than an official store, from an APK download. If you're going to that, disable installation from unknown sources afterwards.

When I clicked play on Solo, I started laughing at how comically obvious the app presents content. First, you're presented with a laundry list of links, each being a different source for the movie file, each listing resolution quality and a file size. The sources listed included F4UFree (CAM) [OpenLoad], SeeHD (CAM) [Streamango] and SeriesNine (CAM) [CDN-FastServer].

It's as if a man in a trenchcoat walked up to me, opened his jacket and showed me a stack of DVDs with poorly printed covers. And when I clicked on one of those options, the app suggested I download YesPlayer to actually watch the stream.

And when I actually opened the stream? You guessed it, I got a blurry, out-of-focus view from inside a movie theater, watching the iconic Star Wars crawl move up. Oh, and there were Polish subtitles on-screen, and the video itself featured a message advertising the 1xbet website. All of that seems totally legitimate.

Is Terranium TV legal? (Hint: it doesn't look good)

Professor Derek Bambauer, a Professor of Law at the University of Arizona teaches Internet law and intellectual property, had plenty to say when I asked him about Terrarium. Bambauer said Terrarium's "developers and distributors will probably be sued by content owners" if the service becomes popular enough.

Bambauer followed up by noting that the app "probably violates copyright law," for assisting "users to find and stream copyrighted material." He elaborated, noting that — unlike Google and BitTorrent trackers — apps don't "qualify for the safe harbors of Title II of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. 512). Section 512(d)" and that its only play to get said protection would be to claim that it's a service provider.

And it's not just the makers of Terrarium that could be in trouble, as Bamauer notes "Terrarium users are undoubtedly violating copyright by streaming or downloading copyrighted material." If that’s the case, then Terrarium can be on the hook for secondary copyright liability.

If the developers and distributors of Terrarium are "beyond the reach of jurisdiction of US courts" — and Bambauer notes that the WHOIS information of the site suggests the app is made outside of the states — the apps will continue to operate, despite their murky legality.

When I reached out to practicing attorney Toby M.J. Butterfield, a partner in the New York-based Moses & Singer's Intellectual Property and Litigation groups, he referred me to American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, a United States Supreme Court case against Aereo, a video service that pulled over-the-air TV channels via the internet. The court decided in favor of the broadcasters, citing how Aereo's service bore an "overwhelming likeness to cable companies" and that Aereo's defense that it's "simply an equipment provider," wasn't enough to protect them.

The Aereo case is relevant because the courts could use this as precedent to say that Terrarium TV's functionality — scraping links and forwarding them to video players — isn't as important as the app's similarity to a more-legitimate streaming service.

What devices is Terrarium TV on?

Terrarium TV is on just about everything from Android to iOS to Windows and even Amazon's Fire TV. The big catch, though, is that you need to jailbreak an iOS device for Terrarium TV, and security settings need to be adjusted for Amazon Fire and Android. Those links point to Terrarium's instructions for how to perform these acts.

Would I use Terrarium TV?

No, but I pay for content. A weird, novel idea; I know. But, seriously: all that time spent hacking your devices, risking their health by lowering their security? Is it really worth it?

What happens when the rights-holders go to court, and look for someone to blame? Are you really sure your VPN service provider — you're not using this without one, right? — isn't going to turn you over?

Well, good luck. I'll be over here paying for content and supporting creators.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.