You can watch Pluto TV in VLC and the MPA considers this piracy

The Motion Picture Association (MPA) has issued a DMCA notice to a GitHub repo that contained a playlist allowing viewers to watch Pluto TV streams on their own apps such as VLC, MPV, and Tvheadend. The move was first noticed by TorrentFreak, and GitHub complied and removed the repo, which ultimately does nothing. If you still have a tiny text file, you can still do exactly what the MPA was trying to stop.

Pluto TV, for those who don’t watch it, is a service provided by Paramount that allows users to legally stream movies and TV shows for free on many devices. They have a mobile app, apps for Xbox and PlayStation, smart TVs and dongles. Users don’t even need to sign up to use it. Pluto’s business model, in turn, is based on serving ads and tracking user behavior. It’s part of a newer generation of streaming products called Free Ad-Supported Television, or FAST.

The GitHub repo in question contained M3U playlists to watch Pluto TV’s content through an app like VLC. The repo basically took links that were already available and collected them in one place. It should be noted that M3U files are not torrent files; It’s just a simple playlist file that can point to local files and web sources. If you’re as old as sin like me, you may have used one in the past to create a playlist of MP3s on your iPod. In this case, the M3U playlist allowed users to watch Pluto on a simple video player instead of being tethered to Plutos.

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While this complaint kind of makes sense if you don’t think about it at all, it’s a little confusing once you get into it. First and most importantly, ads were still being served through the stream; it simply happened via the third-party client that the user was using. The main difference here is the app used, and honestly, is that really such a bad thing?

Second, and funniest, Pluto itself didn’t encrypt any of its streams. These were publicly available via their API and did not contain any DRM. So that begs the question: How does this make up the problem of GitHub user Mart1nho, a random person who posted an M3U playlist? How is watching a stream with ads, albeit on VLC instead of the Pluto app, piracy? Does shutting down a GitHub repo really fix the problem at hand?

The answer is, well, no. Theoretically, could I find a way to get the publicly available Pluto channel urls and compile them into an XML file and another file called playlist.m3u? Possibly. Could I then load these files into my video player of choice and then stream Pluto’s content via both VLC and Possibly. Did that make it a much more pleasant experience? Maybe one more time!

What it could theoretically look like to watch Denkou Choujin Gridman on Pluto TV on

To be honest, I don’t see the problem here. I’m more inclined to watch Pluto TV when I have the flexibility to do so on my own video player. Initially, no login was required to watch Pluto TV. And just to be clear, I was still getting commercials from Pluto TV. These were baked into the creek. And I’m fine with that!

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An ad delivered via a stream played on VLC just as it would on Pluto TV.

“Ultimately, this is all about control,” Katharine Trendacosta, associate director for policy and activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said of the dismantling. “The MPA just doesn’t like that there is information out there that you CAN view on an app they have no relation to. As long as DRM is not SURROUNDED (and even then I would argue that the fact that you cannot do this even if you have the right to use the material is unconstitutional) it is not illegal.”

While not nearly as important, this reminds me of a case of DMCA overreach, namely the YouTube-dl case. For those who don’t follow the youtube downloader software drama like me, youtube-dl has been and still is a crucial software for downloading videos from youtube used in tons of open source software. Not only do I use YouTube-dl; I personally recommend a fork of it, YT-DLP, in a previous article.

GitHub received a takedown notice, followed suit and people rightly complained because it was bullshit. It was finally overturned with the help of the EFF. And while I don’t see that in this case, it raises some questions about the increasing encroachment of copyright owners when it comes to public-facing streams. What exactly is the definition of piracy? And who ends up being targeted when copyright owners try to change their weight?

Besides, and most importantly, what if this is actually just a better way to watch TV?