Movie pirate? Don’t trust Plex Cloud

Plex is a pirate’s best friend. It’s by far the best way to get movies downloaded illegally from the computer to TV. Sure, Plex has a handful of useful, legal features, but let’s be honest, its big claim to fame is hosting and serving downloaded movies. And now the company behind the software announced a service where users can stream movies, photos and music stored on Amazon’s cloud as if the content was streamed locally.

But don’t tell Amazon about the pirated stuff.

The Plex Cloud, as the new service is called, got a fair amount of coverage when it launched earlier today. On the surface it’s exciting. No longer would users have to constantly run and maintain local servers to host. Plex Cloud essentially lets users create their own Netflix. All the movies and photos and music are hosted in the cloud — the same cloud Netflix uses, actually — and they’re called down to devices on demand. Even the Plex server software is streamed from the cloud.

Users just have to pay the $60 yearly fee for unlimited storage on Amazon Web Services. And this is where it gets hairy. Amazon explicitly bans users from hosting infringing content on its servers — content such as downloaded movies.

I haven’t tried the service yet, though Plex offered to get me a beta pass as soon as they’re available. I expect it will work even with movies downloaded from The Pirate Bay and countless other sites. Amazon Web Services does not prevent users from uploading such content. But AWS will likely remove it as soon as it’s identified.

Amazon is not alone in this stance. Uploading such content to cloud services has long been a point of debate. Some users feel as long as the content is not publicly shared or advertised, the content will run under the radar of Amazon, Google, and the rest of the cloud providers.

Plex’s stance on uploading illegal content to AWS is predictable: “Those who use Plex Cloud should abide by the Terms of Use of both Plex and Amazon,” a company spokesperson told me when asked specific questions about AWS’s policies around downloaded movies.

Even operating in a gray area, Plex Cloud is an interesting step in personal computing. It removes the need for personal infrastructure to achieve the same outcome as if the Plex software was running on a home computer. And this is the promise of cloud computing.

As for the Plex Cloud, if I relied on Plex to serve downloaded movies and TV shows to my family, I would keep that content stored safely and privately on a server in my basement next to the crock pot and Halloween decorations. If I did such a thing. But I don’t.