Is torrenting illegal? Yes and no
This method of getting favorite movies, games, and other media appeals to all of us. Millions of people around the world prefer downloading files for free via BitTorrent and software alike. It doesn’t cost you a penny and takes little time, not mentioning convenience. But is torrenting illegal?
The process of torrenting, e.g., using the software is legal. However, downloading files protected by the copyright is a violation of the law. You never know whether you handle data legally or not (in most cases, it’s illegal). Therefore, if you download some unpopular song, you may get away with it. But when it comes to movies and music of popular creators, you can easily get caught and even punished.
How to torrent safely?
Luckily, you can still download media files for free without worrying for the safety – there’s a handful of ways to hide your activity, and you don’t have to be tech-savvy. A VPN for torrenting is the most obvious solution: this service redirects you to a different server and hides your real IP. Besides, the details of your Internet session are not saved in logs – there’s no history of what and when was downloaded.
Other methods include using a proxy server, Usenet, and legal torrent software (the last means your choice of files will be seriously restricted). Anyway, downloading torrents without any protection can cause a lot of troubles.
What is torrenting?
Before we plunge into a discussion of safety issues, let’s define what torrenting is. Typically, when you download some files to your computer, you pull them from some servers via Internet websites. Torrenting represents a different approach: it uses the peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing method. Instead of obtaining files from a server, you use a torrenting service that connects you to other users’ PCs in the public Internet and gets file bits by bits from different sources. The torrent software serves as the meet point for torrent community members: it helps to establish the connection. Interestingly enough, it boosts the speed of downloading, and the more peers are connected, the faster you get the file.
As soon as a file is downloaded on your computer, you can share it, too. Since the files are stored on individual computers, file authors cannot control the distribution of data. You can shut down a server, but deleting illegal files from someone’s PC is impossible.
Getting a closer look at torrenting
Note that different countries have a different attitude to torrenting: while some states ignore the existence of torrents, Europe, the USA, Canada, and some other regions have stringent rules concerning the use of torrents. Before you engage in the process of torrenting, we recommend getting acquainted with the laws related to copyright, Internet use, and online data handling.
Do I violate the law by torrenting files?
Again, it depends on the type of files you handle. Are you sharing your songs or media files? Then, it’s okay – torrent websites and software are here to help you distribute them. But when the other’s copyright-protected files are handled, both receiver and distributor violate the law. If they get caught, authorities can punish them.
Is torrenting safe?
When getting files for free you are exposed to certain risks, such as:
- being caught and punished by the authorities;
- infection of your PC with viruses and other malware;
- downloading low-quality files.
Is game worth the candle?
It’s up to you to decide whether you’re ready to risk. If millions of Internet users continue downloading torrents, this method is still worthy and relevant. However, you should keep in mind that no VPN service and torrenting website can guarantee your privacy. Some VPN providers disclose user data to the government and third parties – such services should be avoided.
Torrenting comes at the price of your safety. So any time you start your torrenting session, make sure that you have established a secure connection, and your IP address cannot be tracked.
Which consequences can I face?
Again, your safety is your responsibility. No one, even the most reliable VPN provider, can give you a 100% warranty of privacy. In the best case, government blocks access to torrent-related websites – the UK and Russia ban such services. In the worst scenario, you can be caught and legally punished – the USA and Canada are strict about piracy and can fine or arrest people spreading and downloading files without authors’ consent.
How can I get caught?
If you don’t take care about your privacy beforehand, you can easily be caught by copyright owners and ISPs. The ID addresses of people who share and download files are easy to figure out – the activity on some popular data shows the IP address of users. That’s enough to find out where the person lives and punish them.
Beware of copyright trolls
Due to the popularity of torrent downloading, another phenomenon has appeared recently. So-called ‘copyright trolls’ started chasing people downloading torrent files illegally. Some work personally, while others represent small businesses and work for real copyright owners. Copyright trolls send threatening messages to people who download torrents: these letters look very official, so people believe they have been caught downloading files. Although it’s a grey legal sphere, there’s still a lot of money made in this industry.
Some copyright trolls can visit you personally and handle you ‘settlement letters’. A letter usually says that you can be sued for $100,000, but can make a settlement for $3,000 to cover up an affair. Paying $3,000 seems to be a better option, so many people agree and give money. Such letters have no legally binding power. Copyright trolls intimidate and shame people to make them pay – do not let them fool you.
What will happen to me if I get caught?
What you should be afraid of is your ISP provider. Some companies can take actions against users who download torrents. These include:
- Canceling your service.
- Throttling Internet connection temporarily.
- Handing over your data to a copyright troll.
ISPs are concerned about torrenting because it takes a lot of bandwidth, and copyright owners can unleash their fury on the company, not the users.
Authorities can apply penalties, as well. For example, in India, a person can get a three-year prison sentence for just visiting torrent websites. In the UK, you can also get a custodial sentence for handling copyrighted content. Of course, the authorities typically distinguish between those who share materials and those who have downloaded a single file. Some severe punishments aren’t likely to be imposed. But when it comes to fines, practice shows that there can be some six-figure penalties.
How to torrent without risks?
The main principle of safe torrenting is hiding your real IP address. You should avoid being caught – that’s your only concern. There are several ways to ensure privacy and security.
Consider getting a VPN for torrenting
This is the most obvious choice. A VPN (virtual private network) creates a tunnel between the user and the websites accessed. The connection is protected: no third party can get the traffic data sent and received. Besides, using a VPN, you get connected to a server in another region, and your real IP address is hidden.
VPN protects your privacy, keeps malware at bay, and makes the torrenting experience much simpler. Although the most reliable providers have paid VPN packages, some $3-6 per month seem to be a way more appealing option than super-pricey subscriptions and fines.
Are there any alternatives?
There are a few other options for safe work with torrent files. One of them is Physically Private Networking. PPNs are preferred when VPN is not enough to ensure safety.
You can also try proxy chains – when set up correctly, and they are more secure than VPNs. However, they should be handled by tech-savvy users only because installation and set up is more complicated. If you use a dynamic chain, you don’t have to be afraid of DNS leaking.
For small files, use the Tor browser. This is a reliable but slow network that is rather suitable for browsing websites, downloading music and books than streaming movies.
Another useful application is Peerblock: it acts as a firewall with a regularly updated blacklist of IP addresses. Please, note that you get a relevant blacklist only when you download and install the app – further on, you need to update it on your own. Even if you use a paid version, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have the entire blacklist of trolls, law enforcement representatives, etc.
Other available options include:
- IPSec (Cisco, Netgear, etc.)
- Partial SSL like SSL-Explorer
- SSH Tunneling
- L2TP (old Cisco, pre IPSec)
- DirectAccess (Microsoft calls an “alternative”)
- Hamachi (likely uses one of the others underneath)
Another great alternative to torrenting is Usenet. This is a paid service that costs about $10-20/month and allows you to download documents from centralized servers instead of peers. Usenet’s prime advantage is fast speed. Besides, it guarantees better privacy. You connect to the provider’s servers that often have an SSL encryption for better protection, and you don’t have to provide any information to get a connection.
Usenet is more convenient from the legal standpoint, too. It reduces your risk of becoming a copyright troll’s target because you don’t supply strangers with copyright content, and use less computing resources and bandwidth.
There’s only one pitfall: Usenet makes files available for some specific number of days. It depends on the provider, but typically files are available within 1,200 days since the moment of posting. Torrents, on the other side, stay available for as long as people seed them.
Is streaming a better solution?
Some Internet users have shifted from torrenting to streaming that’s performed either on their web-browsers or in special software suits like Kodi. Is there any legal difference between these two methods?
When you stream the copyrighted content from pirated sources, you still break the law. However, everything depends on your country: while UK and India are strict about streaming, the US authorities also regard it as a law violation, but there were no precedents of people being punished for streaming copyrighted files from unsanctioned websites. As for uploading copyrighted content without author’s access, it’s always illegal.
With streaming, it’s harder for the trolls and law enforcement to catch people. Stream transmits video from a website to users’ devices – no third parties are participating. But there’s still a risk that the pirated content contains malware, ads, phishing bots, etc. There’s the whole gamut of threats hiding inside!
To ensure excellent torrenting performance, mind the following rules:
- Avoid downloading music, games and video that have been released on DVD and Blu-Ray within the last 60 days.
- The same applies to the Popcorn Time streaming app – it also streams directly from torrents. If you stick to this service, use VPN.
- The most popular torrents are monitored closer than unpopular ones. Read reviews to make sure that the files are safe.
- Watch the results of virus scans – you can perform scanning on your own using several antivirus programs.
- Select the most reliable VPN – independent reviews are here to help you.
Although torrenting is the easiest and the cheapest way to download your favorite movies and games, it’s quite risky. You should keep in mind that torrenting and even visiting torrent-related websites is illegal in many countries and can cause severe punishment. Download torrents carefully and don’t forget about all necessary precautions: use a VPN, read reviews, and scan files for viruses.
With a responsible approach to torrenting, you won’t have to face legal problems and copyright troll’s threats. There’s a myriad of solutions for safe downloading – use them and enjoy media.