SnagFilms was a popular website that offered free, advertising-supported streaming of documentary and independent films. At its peak, SnagFilms had a library of over 10,000 titles and was available across a network of over 110,000 affiliated sites. However, in May 2020, SnagFilms announced that it was shutting down. This article will examine whether SnagFilms was legal and safe to use for watching free movies while it was operational.
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Overview of SnagFilms
SnagFilms was founded in 2007 with the goal of making high-quality documentary films available to a wide audience for free. The site offered advertising-supported streaming of its library of indie films and documentaries.
Some key facts about SnagFilms:
- Offered over 10,000 documentary and independent film titles for free streaming.
- Funded through advertising – short commercials played before films.
- Available across a network of over 110,000 affiliated sites beyond just SnagFilms.com, including Comcast, Hulu, IMDb, AOL and more.
- Allowed documentary filmmakers to submit films for inclusion in the library. Curated collection.
- Platform could be accessed on the web, mobile devices, apps and connected TVs.
The Legality of SnagFilms
When it comes to the legality of a site offering free movies, there are a few factors to consider:
Copyright and Licensing
For a site to legally offer free movies, the site needs to have the proper copyrights and licenses to distribute the content. SnagFilms made arrangements with documentary producers and distributors to acquire the rights to offer their films for free streaming with ads. They had agreements in place to legally stream the content.
Websites offering video content also need to comply with the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) by responding to takedown requests and having a copyright infringement policy. SnagFilms complied with the DMCA and had a process in place for rights owners to report infringement.
Nature of the Content
The type of content offered also matters when it comes to legality. SnagFilms focused exclusively on documentary and independent film titles, not major Hollywood blockbusters. This type of specialty content is more likely to be licensed for free ad-supported distribution compared to mainstream Hollywood films.
Safety of SnagFilms
Beyond just legality, was SnagFilms actually safe to use for consumers? Here are some factors to consider regarding the safety of the platform:
Limited Risk of Legal Action
Because SnagFilms took steps to properly license content and comply with the DMCA, the risk of individual users facing legal complaints for watching videos was low. Proper licensing helps protect consumers.
Reputation from Major Partners
The fact that large players like Comcast, Hulu and IMDb offered SnagFilms content on their platforms signaled that the site was reputable and cleared any legal hurdles for streaming.
No History of Malware Issues
There were no reports of SnagFilms itself being a source of malware infections from downloading videos or using the site. The platform itself appeared to employ good security practices to protect visitors.
Minimal Inappropriate Content
Since SnagFilms focused on curated documentary films, there was very little risk of consumers encountering inappropriate content like pornography as they may find on other free video sites.
SnagFilms Library Content
So what kinds of movies were actually available in the free SnagFilms library while the site was active?
Here is an overview:
- Documentaries: This formed the core of SnagFilm’s library. Topics spanned nature, history, science, food, biographies, current affairs and more.
- Independent and Art Films: SnagFilms offered acclaimed indie movies along with experimental and art house films.
- Foreign Films: The library included international movies from filmmakers around the world. Languages included Spanish, French, Chinese and Russian.
- Shorts: In addition to feature length films, SnagFilms offered thousands of shorts spanning animation, comedy, documentary and drama genres.
- Classic and Retro Films: There was a selection of classic cult movies, old horror/sci-fi B-films, and retro public domain titles.
- Sports Films: SnagFilms had an entire Sports channel dedicated to sports documentaries. Topics ranged from profiles of athletes to stories about various sports.
Using SnagFilms Before Shut Down
While it was operational, here is a quick guide to how to start watching free movies on SnagFilms:
- Create Account: Creating a free SnagFilms account unlocked added features like favoriting movies and resume play. Users could sign-up with an email address through the website.
- Browse Movies: SnagFilms could be browsed by categories and channels based on genre or topics. The homepage also featured highlighted selections of top films.
- Search: Users could search for movies by title, director, genre or keyword using the search bar. Advanced search filtered by duration, subtitles, etc.
- Apps: SnagFilms offered mobile apps for iOS, Android, Kindle and other platforms. The apps allowed downloading some titles for offline viewing.
- Watch Ads: When watching any film, short commercials played before the movie started. Users then had uninterrupted viewing.
The Shut Down of SnagFilms
Unfortunately, after over a decade of offering free documentary and indie film streaming, SnagFilms shut down on May 20, 2020. A notice on the website read:
“As of May 20, 2020, SnagFilms is shutting down. It has been a pleasure to entertain you over the past 12 years, and we thank you for allowing us into your hearts and homes. While this chapter ends, a new one begins! Keep your eyes here for news of what comes next.”
So what led to SnagFilms ultimately being shuttered after so many years? There seem to be several contributing factors:
- Increased Competition: In the later years, SnagFilms faced much more competition from free, ad-supported streaming models like Tubi, Pluto TV, Crackle and more.
- Rising Content Costs: The costs of licensing all the content for free streaming likely became too high to sustain profitably.
- Market Saturation: The market had become saturated with endless streaming options, leaving little room for niche services.
- Declining Viewership: Without must-see original programming, usage and viewership of SnagFilms library likely declined over time.
- Shift in Parent Company Priorities: SnagFilms was owned by multimedia company BermanBraun. It seems their priorities shifted over the years.
Alternatives to SnagFilms
Although Snag Films is gone, there are other free, ad-supported platforms that offer some similar types of documentary and independent film content:
- Tubi: Tubi has an entire Documentary category with films about history, nature, biography and more.
- Crackle: Sony’s Crackle has some documentary and indie cinema offerings, though selection is more limited.
- Vudu: Walmart’s Vudu has a selection of free ad-supported films, including acclaimed documentaries.
- Popcornflix: Popcornflix has hundreds of free ad-supported films across genres, including festival favorites and international content.
- Pluto TV: Pluto TV has a whole channel called Pluto TV Documentaries with a decent library of free documentaries.
- YouTube: Many great free documentaries are available on YouTube, often from reputable sources like PBS or film distributors.
In summary, while it was operational, SnagFilms provided a legal and generally safe means for consumers to stream documentary and independent films free with ads. The site had the proper licensing deals with content owners and employed reasonable security precautions. However, increased competition ultimately led to Snag Films shutting down in 2020. Fortunately, alternatives like Tubi, Pluto TV and Crackle now provide some similar free, ad-supported documentary content options.
Table: Comparison of Free Documentary Streaming Services
|Service||Library Size||Content Type||Ads?||Devices||Notes|
|SnagFilms||10,000+||Documentaries, indie films||Yes||Web, mobile, apps, TVs||Shut down in 2020|
|Tubi||1,000+||Documentaries||Yes||Web, mobile, apps, TVs||Owned by Fox|
|Crackle||500+||Documentaries, indie films||Yes||Web, mobile, apps, TVs||Owned by Sony|
|Vudu||100+||Documentaries||Yes||Web, mobile, apps, TVs||Owned by Walmart|
|Pluto TV||100+||Documentaries||Yes||Web, mobile, apps, TVs||Owned by Paramount|
|Popcornflix||100s||Documentaries, indie films, international||Yes||Web, mobile, apps||Owned by Screen Media Ventures|
|YouTube||1,000s||Documentaries from various sources||Yes||Web, mobile, apps, TVs||User uploaded content|
- Snag Films offered free, ad-supported streaming of a library of over 10,000 documentaries and independent films.
- The site had the proper licensing and copyright agreements in place to legally stream the content.
- SnagFilms employed reasonable security and safety practices for consumers.
- Increased competition and costs likely led to its shutdown in 2020.
- Alternatives like Tubi, Pluto TV and Crackle now provide some similar free documentary content options.