The best sites to download free movies, music, TV and books

Free online TV

The BBC iPlayer is a wonderful thing but, as a BBC announcer might put it, other video services are available. Channel 4's 4oD service is very good, with the option to PIN-protect the service so young children don't watch the channel's more mature output available.

It's not just a catch-up service for the last few days' programmes, either: 4oD is offers entire archives, so you can watch the entire first and second series of things like Green Wing if you fancy it. It's one of the best ways to kill time watching TV series legally.

Channel Five offers video on-demand too, with free programming in exchange for pre-roll advertising, and both it and ITV make programmes available for 30 days after broadcast.

Sky's getting in on the act too, but it's not quite as generous as its terrestrial rivals: much of the Sky Player's free programming has a little asterisk after the word 'free'. Sky is rather keen on protecting its subscription revenues, so content you'd normally need a Sky dish to watch is only free to existing Sky subscribers – and only if you're already paying to get that particular channel.

Even YouTube is getting in on the TV act. In September, Channel 4 became the first broadcaster to agree to deliver full-length TV programming on Google's video service. The deal means Channel 4 will publish more than 3,000 hours of archive programmes such as BrassEye and Teachers, with Google and Channel 4 splitting the ad money.

You'll also find Channel 4 content on movie rental site LoveFilm, whose video-on-demand service is peppered with freebies such as Derren Brown Mind Control. If you're using an ad blocker you'll need to switch it off, as LoveFilm – reasonably enough – needs to pay the bills in order to deliver free programming.

One of the most interesting video-on-demand services is Hulu, a joint venture between NBC Universal, News Corp and Disney that streams content from nearly 190 different companies including FOX, ABC, Sony, Warner Bros and Comedy Central.


US ONLY: The popular video-on-demand service Hulu is finally coming to the UK at some point in 2010

That makes it a one-stop shop for almost any popular US programme: The Simpsons, Lost, The Office, 30 Rock… it's a superb service and there's just one problem: the UK launch has been delayed until at least 2010, so if you're outside the US you can't use it unless you're willing to bend the rules a little bit.

We're told that anonymisers such as Hotspot Shield can fool services such as and the streaming music service into believing you are a US resident, although using such trickery is definitely against the terms and conditions.

It's also worth noting that broadcasters are actively trying to block anonymiser services, so what works today might not work tomorrow. The Boxee media centre software is engaged in an ongoing battle with Hulu: the service bans Boxee, Boxee finds a way round it, Hulu blocks that and so on.