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.

MORE: What Is Kodi? Everything You Need to Know

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.

  • rajkoralevic11
  • Corey_33
    What do you think about Set TV? Same bad gut feeling?
  • benn
    Sounds like a torrent streaming network for amphibians
  • brandiealex101
    Terrarium TV is horrible. It has so many ads on mobile version. Kodi is still the best
  • dazimmermann
    Like they say about internet sites, if you're not paying for the product, you ARE the product. Can't wait to hear how this side-load app captures your logins/passwords and personal data.
  • pbs1
    Kodi/Exodus wannabe
  • xeraphax
    I pay for content, too lol. I think that it's important to support that which gives you entertainment, utility or joy.
  • ninoc
    I'm all for paying the creators but not the middlemen ie satellite and cable co's. they're ripoff artists.
  • adithyavmk
    Ok, I agree with all points except one, I don't see how Terrarium does anything to security on an Android device.

    And then, Terrarium is definitely a really bad application. It is definitely not legitimate, which is why it's not on the Play Store. Besides, there are loads of ads that pop up out of nowhere.

    If you still want any other such app, I would suggest you to look at Stremio. It's basically like Kodi, but I like it better because of it's intuitive UI. It's available on the Play Store, and I'm sure it's legal because it is using a loophole.

    Stremio was originally made to curate content together from a person's Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, HBO, iTunes and Play Store collections so that you could watch stuff anywhere and on any device. But you would still have to actually sign in to your accounts, and pay.

    Here's the catch: Stremio allowed people to create Community Developed Add-ons: which are disabled by default in the app. And BINGO! You have add ons for everything from RARBG to PirateBay. All you have to do is: go to Settings of the app, and enable Community Add-ons.

    Kodi is pretty similar, and definitely more popular, but I feel it doesn't have a good UI, at least on Android.
  • thaugabrook
    Tom, I'm absolutely shocked by your post here. I've always considered you hip and knowledgeable; but as the old saying goes, the world will never know your ignorance until you open your month. In your research of this topic, did you or your expert discuss the specifics of copyright laws specific to streaming vs downloading digital content directly to a personal electronic device? Based off of your responses here, I would have to say no. Before we had fast internet speeds, downloading movies, music and other digital content was the most popular form of sharing digital content. It was also highly illegal as copyright laws in most countries made it illegal to possess copyright digital content on a person device that was not purchased or obtained legally. As internet speeds increased, sharing digital content via streaming became an overnight wonder, and also a loophole to copyright laws, as streamers don't possess the digital content on their personal devices; but simply view it remotely. Terrarium Developers have no legal liability as they have only developed an app that "scrapes" the internet to requested content. The developers don't possess this digital content themselves. I agree that the possessors of illegal digital content have a legal liability for storing such materials on their personal devices, but this would not be an issue of the developers, nor the viewing streamers. Copyright laws are specific to possession, and if you disagree, then your concern is with the structure of the law, not the developers.