What is Torrenting? Is it Safe? Is it illegal? Will you be caught?
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Looking to find out more about torrenting? We explain exactly what torrenting is, how to torrent safely, and what to do if you get caught.
@pabischoff UPDATED: April 8, 2021
Three questions I’m often asked are: Is torrenting safe, is torrenting legal, and what happens if I get caught? This post answers those questions and looks at the methods torrenters use to stay safe and anonymous.
What is Torrenting?
Torrenting is the act of downloading and uploading files through the BitTorrent network. Instead of downloading files to a central server, torrenting involves downloading files from other users’ devices on the network. Conversely, users upload files from their own devices for other users to download.
Torrenting is the most popular form of peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing, and it requires torrent management software to connect to the BitTorrent network. Such software can be downloaded for free for a number of different devices.
Everyone downloading or uploading the same file is called a peer, and collectively they are known as a swarm. Because of how BitTorrent works, a peer can download a file from several other users at once, or upload a file to multiple other users simultaneously.
Torrenting is often associated with piracy because it’s frequently used to share files that are protected by copyright, including movies, games, music, and software. However, torrenting has many legitimate uses as well, such as lessening the load on centralized servers by distributing the hosting burden among users.
Torrenting safety and legality: In short
Is torrenting legal or illegal? Torrenting itself isn’t illegal, but downloading unsanctioned copyrighted material is. It’s not always immediately apparent which content is legal to torrent and which isn’t. Some fall in a gray area, so you may find yourself unwittingly on the wrong side of the law.
Your internet service provider (ISP) and copyright trolls monitoring the BitTorrent network can take action if they catch you illegally torrenting. This can range from a warning letter and throttling (slowing down) of your internet connection speeds to legal action – although the latter is increasingly rare.
Digital privacy-conscious torrenters will use VPN services, or virtual private networks, to keep their internet activity hidden from their ISP. With a wide range of applications, some VPNs are better suited for torrenting than others. If you want to keep your ISP from snooping on your activity, choose a VPN connection that: a) doesn’t keep a log of your activity, b) isn’t based in a country where the legal system can be used to demand customer records, and c) is fast enough that it won’t slow entire downloads. We’ve rounded up the providers that fit these criteria and others in our list of the best torrenting VPN services.
How to torrent safely
It is relatively simple to torrent safely and keep your online activity private. Note that while a VPN for torrenting will keep your activity private and safe from prying eyes you may still be susceptible to malware from some public torrent sites. Follow these 5 steps to torrent privately with a VPN.
Here’s how to torrent safely:
Download and install a VPN matching the criteria mentioned above. We recommend NordVPN.
Enable your VPN’s kill switch, if it has one.
Connect to a VPN server, preferably in a P2P-friendly country
Once the connection is established, open your torrent client and start downloading as usual
Your online activity is now encrypted by your VPN
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Torrenting without a VPN
Torrenting without a VPN means your internet service provider (ISP) can see your online activity including the sites you visit and the content you view. In certain countries, including the US, ISPs are allowed to share this information with third parties including intellectual property owners. A VPN will keep your online activity private from your ISP.
Is uTorrent safe?
uTorrent is the official torrent client from the creators of the BitTorrent protocol. It is proprietary—not open source—software maintained by a legal US company. Like BitTorrent, the uTorrent software itself is legal, although it can be used for digital piracy. The official uTorrent is free of malware and can be used safely and privately in combination with a VPN. It does not, however, prevent users from downloading malicious files that can infect their device.
The BitTorrent protocol rose to become the most popular medium for peer-to-peer file sharing in the world after the demise of centralized services like Napster and Limewire. Unlike those services, torrenting is almost completely decentralized save for the trackers that allow users to search and download torrent files and magnet links. Torrent files and magnet links are used to find other users on the network who host the desired file or files but do not actually host those files for downloading.
Is BitTorrent safe and legal?
The BitTorrent protocol is not in itself illegal or unsafe. It is just the means to share any type of file, and plenty of legal torrenting services do exist. The most popular torrent trackers, such as ThePirateBay and KickassTorrents, however, operate in a legal grey area, offering users free access to copyrighted content. Sharing and downloading copyrighted content by BitTorrent, or other means, is illegal in many countries and can be unsafe since sites including KickassTorrents have been shown to host malware.
These trackers would argue that they simply find and organize information that is already out there, and they do not illegally host any copyrighted content on their own servers. Just like the BitTorrent protocol itself, they are the means to an end. Not everyone is convinced. Major trackers have come under heavy legal scrutiny from content creators and distributors who argue the trackers enable and encourage theft.
The blame ultimately shifts to the users, the millions of individuals who host files on their personal computers, downloading and uploading movies, games, software, music, ebooks, and more. Users connected to the same tracker are called peers, and they fall into two categories. A leech uses a torrent file or magnet link to download the file from other users on the network who already have the file. These users who already have the file are called seeds. When a leech is finished downloading a file (or even just part of a file), he or she becomes a seed, allowing other leeches to download the file from his or her computer. As a general rule, it’s considered proper pirate etiquette to seed as much as you leech.
Comparitech does not condone or encourage any violation of copyright law or restrictions. Please consider the law, victims, and risks of copyright piracy before downloading copyrighted material without permission.
Legally speaking, seeding and leeching copyrighted material fall into different criminal categories. Think of it like buying illegal drugs: purchasing the drugs for personal use is definitely a crime, but a relatively minor one. Turning around and selling those drugs to others is a much more serious offense. Finding the original source of the drugs, or in this case the HD rip of the new Avengers movie, would be the best case scenario for law enforcement, but that isn’t always possible. The trackers act as the shady back alley marketplaces where all of these transactions go down, but they don’t personally handle any of the drugs.
What happens if you are caught torrenting?
The prosecution of torrent users has been sporadic. The chances of actually going to court or having to pay a settlement are pretty slim, but the penalties can be extremely high. The frequency of copyright holders suing torrenters for copyright infringement peaked in the late 2000s. Copyright pirates were sued for wildly disproportionate amounts of money, and most settled out of court.
These public scare tactics shone poorly on the recording and movie industries because they were portrayed as petty millionaires bullying poor college students. Direct lawsuits are much less common these days, but the campaign against torrenters is far from over.
Now the job of going after individual copyright pirates has been outsourced to a growing number of small businesses known as copyright trolls. These companies locate torrenters who illegally download copyrighted content through their real IP addresses. They then approach the copyright owners and sign a deal that lets them take legal action on their behalf. Others are hired directly by Hollywood production companies to sniff out pirates.
With legal leverage and a list of names, the copyright trolls then go after torrenters via mail, email, or even by going door to door and handing out settlement letters. These letters are not legally binding documents or injunctions. Copyright trolls use intimidation, fear, and shame to make torrenters pay without ever going to court. A common tactic is to threaten to sue for over $100, 000 but only ask for $3, 000 or so in the settlement. That makes the $3, 000 look like a good deal, but going to court is costly and risky for them, so don’t give in if you receive such a letter.
What to do if you receive a settlement letter
The most common way to receive a settlement letter is through your internet provider. A copyright troll will go through the court system to subpoena your ISP and force it to email customers with a legal threat and hand over personal details.
According to US law, an IP address is not a person. If you were contacted through your ISP, chances are that’s because the copyright troll doesn’t know your actual identity yet. If the letter doesn’t contain any identifying information on you, keep it that way and do nothing. Your case could be dismissed before the date that your ISP is set to reveal your personal details to the troll. If you respond and identify yourself, that gives the troll a more direct means of targeting you.
This is a game of probability for copyright trolls. If they send out 1, 000 threatening emails and 50 people reply, they only need a handful to actually cough up money to make it worth their time. Chances are it’s more cost effective for them to move on to the next swarm of torrenters than pursue the remaining 950 people.
If things escalate and you decide to take action, lawyer up. Here’s a list of attorneys compiled by the Electronic Frontier Foundation that specialize in these sorts of cases.
Depending on your ISP, it may take actions against you on its own behalf. That could mean throttling your internet connection or threatening to hand over personal details to a copyright troll. Why does your ISP even care? Because torrenting takes up a lot of bandwidth, and that bandwidth costs ISPs money. On top of that, an ISP could be receiving kickbacks from content owners and their associates.
How to protect yourself
To avoid any legal ramifications, it’s best to simply not torrent. However, if you insist on torrenting, take the time to protect your online privacy and keep copyright trolls at bay.
Use a VPN when torrenting
The best way to torrent safely is by using a VPN. A VPN accomplishes two things: first, it re-routes all your internet traffic through a server in a location of your choosing, which changes your real IP address to one used by hundreds or thousands of other people (assuming your VPN uses shared IP addresses, which most do). This adds a significant layer of anonymity and makes it much more difficult for anyone to track you. Second, a VPN encrypts all your torrent traffic before it leaves your computer. That means your ISP cannot monitor your internet activity, nor can anyone else. And because all your traffic heads to the VPN server first, ISPs can’t even tell where it’s going.
Using a quality VPN is key; don’t settle for a “free” service or VPNs that log your activity, cap your bandwidth and data, or don’t provide sufficient DNS leak protection. Not all VPNs tolerate torrenting. You can check out our list of the best VPNs for torrenting here, which are services with fast download speeds and a focus on online privacy, security and anonymity like NordVPN, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN among others.
If you don’t want to pay for a VPN, you might be considering Tor. Tor is similar to a VPN in that it routes your traffic through several volunteer “nodes” while encrypting traffic. We recommend a VPN over Tor for a couple reasons. First, Tor is slow, and usually best for simple browsing and other low-bandwidth activity. Second, connecting to Tor could actually draw more attention from your ISP and law enforcement, as it’s a well-known tool for hackers and criminals.
Another popular app among torrenters is Peerblock. Peerblock is a desktop firewall with a regularly updated blacklist of IP addresses. These IP addresses belong to entities that try to track your activity online, especially on peer-to-peer networks. Unfortunately, the blacklist is only updated once upon installation. After that, users must pay to keep them updated. Even if you’re willing to pay, it’s unlikely that the blacklist could contain every possible IP address for copyright trolls, universities, and law enforcement. A copyright troll just needs to connect to the swarm–all the devices connected to a single torrent–with an IP that isn’t on that blacklist to get your IP address.
Instead of torrenting, another alternative is Usenet. Usenet is a paid service-usually between $10 and $20 per month–where you download files from centralized servers instead of a network of peers. Usenet downloads are much, much faster; often as fast as your ISP can handle. Usenet is more private as well. The connections take place between you and the provider’s network of servers, and the best providers offer an SSL-encrypted connection. Some even throw in VPNs for good measure. Torrents, on the other hand, require that you share at least some identifying information to connect to the tracker and peers.
Finally, downloading a Usenet file doesn’t mean you have to seed it for other internet users afterward. Legally, this makes you less of a target because you’re not supplying strangers with copyrighted content, at the same time consuming fewer computer resources and internet bandwidth.
Usenet providers make files available for a certain number of days. How many depends on the provider, but the standard is 1, 200 days after the original posting. Until that time is up, users have full access to that file. Torrents only stay up as long as people seed the file.
We’ve rounded up some of the best Usenet providers here.
Public vs private trackers
A “tracker” is like a search engine that indexes files on the BitTorrent network. Trackers can be private or public, and the former usually requires an invitation from an existing member.
ThePirateBay, KickassTorrents, and Demonoid are all examples of public trackers. Anyone can just go to their respective websites and search without logging in or requiring any sort of authentication. Likewise, anyone can upload files for others to download. These uploads are not moderated, so users must judge whether a download is safe and accurate based on comments and the reputation of the uploader.
Private trackers are more exclusive both in terms of who can upload and who can download within a group. They vary wildly in terms of content and quality, but many members of private trackers attest that they have higher quality files, faster downloads, longer retention, and an overall more consistent and safe experience.
The law views private trackers the same as public trackers. Internet piracy is piracy whether you do it in public or within a private group.
Streaming vs torrenting
Many people have moved away from downloading entire files through BitTorrent and opt instead to stream video content either on their web browsers or through customized programs like Kodi. When it comes to safety and the law, what’s the difference?
Legally speaking, you’re probably still breaking the law when you stream illegal content from a pirated source. However, this depends largely on your country. In the UK, it’s outright illegal. In India, a court ruled that it is absolutely not illegal. In the US, it’s still a grey area, as there’s been no precedent of anyone being convicted for copyright piracy after streaming copyrighted video content from an unsanctioned source.
Those who upload the videos without compensating or asking permission from the copyright holder do so illegally. That’s pretty much standard no matter where you are.
Not only do laws tend to be more lenient toward streaming content, but it’s also more difficult for copyright trolls and law enforcement to catch users in the act. When you download a torrent, you can see the IP addresses of everyone else you’re uploading to or downloading from. But streaming transmits a video directly from a website to your device, with no third parties involved.
Don’t get too comfortable, however, as there are still risks. The website could be logging IP addresses or other information about its users, which it could then hand over to law enforcement or a copyright troll. Your ISP could monitor your activity and see that you are watching pirated content. These are risks that can be mitigated by connecting to a reputable VPN.
When it comes to security, streaming video carries just as many risks as torrenting. Websites that stream pirated content tend to be chock full of intrusive ads, malware, and phishing threats. Kodi users are subject to man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks and other threats from the add-ons they download.
As a rule of thumb, avoid downloading movies that were released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the past 60 days, especially big-hit blockbusters. That’s when movies make the vast majority of their post-box office money, after which their income significantly drops off. Copyright holders will put most of their anti-piracy resources into going after torrenters of new releases to minimize the financial damage. The same goes for TV series, shows and video games.
Users of Popcorn Time, the free movie-streaming app, should tread just as carefully as torrenters. Many Popcorn Time users don’t realize that the app actually streams directly from torrents and will even seed a file so it is uploaded to other users. All the risks associated with Popcorn Time apply in equal measure to torrenting.
Choose your torrents wisely. The most popular torrents on ThePirateBay and KickassTorrents are probably the ones being most closely monitored by copyright trolls. However, don’t pick totally unpopular ones either. Read through the comments section, where users often run virus scans on torrent downloads and post the results. They will also give you a general review of the quality.
Even if the comments are positive, run your own virus scans as well. Ideally, use multiple antivirus programs to run an array of scans, as each of their virus libraries can differ. Not all antivirus programs play nice with each other, however, so mixing two or more must be done with care. We recommend Bitdefender to scan all downloads before opening. This is especially important when downloading games and software, which are often “cracked” by the uploader. Cracks make it easier to bypass DRM schemes that validate content with the publisher, but they also make it easier to distribute hidden malware, spyware, and viruses. Check out Comparitech’s antivirus reviews section here.
Why did BitTorrent install adware on my computer? BitTorrent is a network and protocol used to share files, so BitTorrent itself cannot install adware on your computer.
However, the programs used to connect to the BitTorrent network and download files, called torrent managers or torrent clients, can and often do come with adware. The files you download can also contain malware and adware.
Stick to reputable torrent managers and, if prompted, refuse any offers to install additional software alongside them. These additional programs are often adware.
Likewise, be sure to only download and upload torrents you downloading a shared torrent from Google drive illegal? If you’re downloading something from Google Drive, then it’s not a torrent. It’s just a download. The file might have originally been downloaded through BitTorrent, then uploaded to Google Drive where others can download it.
Semantics aside, if the content of the file is protected by copyright, then yes, it is illegal to download pirated files from Google I just download a torrent from a public place? Most torrenters use public trackers to find and download files through BitTorrent. So in that sense, yes, you can download a torrent from a public place provided you have a torrent client installed on your device.
The files themselves are downloaded from other BitTorrent users who have downloaded the file and are now uploading it to fellow users.
Private trackers are also available and are often safer, but typically require an invitation from an existing I go to jail for torrenting? It depends on the circumstances, but no, it’s highly doubtful you would go to jail for torrenting. Most lawsuits regarding torrenting are civil suits, not criminal ones, so if a penalty is levied, it’s usually a fine or some other monetary compensation.
That being said, it also depends on what country you’re in, what you torrent, and whether you also seeded the file so it could be downloaded by other users. Check your local laws and are the risks of torrenting music? The music recording industry has, on occasion, aggressively targeted torrenters who engaged in music piracy. These days, litigation is mostly done by copyright trolls who target torrenters on behalf of recording studios. They’ll send out settlement letters demanding hundreds or even thousands of dollars to torrenters whom they can identify. They usually go through internet service providers to contact torrenters. Your ISP could throw you under the bus, and that’s not a gamble we recommend taking. By using a VPN, you can greatly reduce the risk of being identified by a copyright troll.
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Is Downloading Torrent Legal or Illegal, And How Safe Is It?
When it comes to torrents, one of the most commonly asked questions is “Is downloading torrents legal or illegal? ” Torrent clients, such as uTorrent Vuze and the official BitTorrent client, are used to download immense amounts of data on the Web, and there’s no question that much of it is illegal. Here we’ll talk about how torrent downloads work, when they’re illegal, and how to protect your privacy when you’re using them.
So What Is Legal and What Is Illegal?
The short answer: as long as the item is copyrighted and you don’t own it, then downloading it (for free) via torrent is illegal. Using a torrent client and downloading torrents in itself isn’t illegal, as you could be downloading things that aren’t protected by copyright.
The long answer: This varies from case to case. Most countries have basic common laws against intellectual property theft. If a piece of music is copyrighted and you don’t own it, you can’t download it legally. The same goes for a movie, a game, or anything else you may want (unless the copyright-holder decides to make it free either temporarily or permanently, as is often the case with video games). The line gets kind of fuzzy here, since people ask themselves many different questions about their own country’s laws.
In general, a copyright is registered to an individual or organization that creates something. This copyright has a time limit, usually equivalent to the lifetime of the creator and a set amount of additional years. Some copyrights are for life plus fifty years. Others are for life plus seventy years. Look up your country in the previous link if you’re unsure of your laws. Of course, your mileage may vary, as some things may not be protected by the law where you live, or copyright law may not be enforced at all.
So if you’re downloading a free Linux distribution through your torrent client, you don’t need to worry. But if you’re getting John Lennon’s “Imagine” from The Pirate Bay, you’re doing something that in all likelihood is breaking a law.
Whatever it is you’re doing is not any of my business. But it is my business to make sure you know just how “anonymous” you are in the torrent network. The short answer is: you totally aren’t!
It’s handy to have a basic knowledge of how the torrent protocol works. Theoretically you should have some level of privacy since you’re not downloading any data from one particular server (in contrast to downloading something from a central server like you’d find on Microsoft’s website, where they’ll know exactly who it is that’s downloading their products).
But through the torrent system you download directions to a file. That means that the torrent file is actually just a list of trackers and some hash codes. It doesn’t really prove that you downloaded the torrent file. What you do inside your torrent client is more important, and that’s all managed by a decentralized list of servers. Once you start the download of the actual file you want to get to, you end up downloading little pieces of the file from a bunch of people.
Can You Get Caught?
Government agents and copyright trolls tend to snoop around the Torrent networks, and some of the more popular sites hosting Torrent files, downloading files and listing all the IP addresses they find under the Peers (downloaders) and Seeders (uploaders) lists. This will, of course, compromise your address eventually.
The actual number of people who get caught is miniscule, but if you want to secure yourself and don’t care much to contribute to the Torrent community, then you can disable seeding which stops your PC uploading files to the torrent network. Avid torrenters would call this selfish, and maybe they’re right, but you’re also covering yourself.
Another good option is to use a proxy or VPN, then set your torrent client to connect to peers through that. This essentially makes you anonymous by routing your connection through a different IP address.
Then there’s the onion routing network (Tor) that you can configure as a proxy for your torrent client. However, since the Snowden revelations it’s become known that even Tor has been targeted by the NSA and GCHQ for illegal activity. While the network is mostly secure, there have been incidents of these spy bodies attacking individual computers, so it’s not as anonymous as it once was.
Rest assured that torrenting does not equate to piracy. It does, however, provide a very convenient way to do it! The torrent protocol is just a clever transmission method for users to download files more easily. If you’re worried that you may be downloading something that’s against the laws in your country, ask below.
This article was first published in Jun 2013 and was updated in Nov 2017.
Image credit: Pirate Bay main page
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Legal Uses of uTorrent – Small Business – Chron.com
The practice of peer-to-peer file sharing, or “torrenting, ” has a sketchy reputation because of its association with online piracy. However, torrenting simply offers a way for multiple users on the Internet to share large quantities of information directly with each other, without using a central server, and is a perfectly legal activity. You will only run afoul of the law if the information you’re sharing is copyrighted and you don’t have a license to distribute or download it. µTorrent Legality To begin torrenting you need something called a “BitTorrent client, ” a program you install on your computer to handle the torrenting process. The word “BitTorrent” is just the name of the protocol that describes how torrenting works, and you don’t need to worry about it. The most popular BitTorrent client, as of 2013, is called µTorrent, and it’s a completely legal piece of software. While you can potentially carry out illegal activities with µTorrent, the program itself is fully within the law and you have no reason to fear downloading or installing it. µTorrent uses the Greek lowercase letter “mu” in front — not a lowercase English “u. ” That’s why some people pronounce it “Mu Torrent” or “Micro Torrent, ” as the letter “mu” stands for the prefix “micro” in science and technology. The name comes from the fact that µTorrent has a compact, pared down interface that runs quickly and takes up very little disk space, which explains µTorrent’s popularity. Bandwidth Conservation The most common legal use for µTorrent is bandwidth conservation. To distribute small amounts of data you can simply upload the files to a server and let people download them from there. However, with large amounts of data, multiplied by many downloads, you can quickly use up your Web host’s bandwidth limit. If this happens your Web host might charge you extra fees, make the files unavailable or even make your entire Web domain unavailable until you purchase a larger bandwidth plan. In comparison, with torrenting you share or “seed” the files with another user on a separate network. That user, after downloading them from you, continues to make the files available for others to download, so that now the two of you can split the burden. Imagine this process multiplied even more, with dozens or even hundreds of people seeding the files and spreading the bandwidth load between them. Marketing Because of its sketchy reputation, torrenting also has a kind of edgy appeal to some people. Content producers like musicians and artists can take advantage of this by making some of their material available for download by torrent. You might be able to make this strategy work for you as well. In addition to saving bandwidth on your own website, by torrenting your content you can present yourself as savvy with modern technology and vaguely defiant against the big media companies that view torrenting purely as a threat. This depends on your target audience, however, and many people have no idea about how torrenting works, so do your homework before pursuing torrenting as a marketing strategy. If you go ahead with it, consider including a short tutorial on your website about how fans can download your content by torrent. Data Redundancy Even if you have plenty of bandwidth, technical difficulties and malicious attacks can sometimes bring down your servers. This can be a serious disruption to business operations, which torrenting can do a lot to solve by providing data redundancy. This only pertains to file-sharing, and not to other online activities like e-commerce that usually require central servers, but nevertheless it can comprise an important element in your contingency planning. Civil rights activists also use file-sharing on a similar basis, using the redundancy of torrents to spread information despite the censorship efforts of repressive governments. References Writer Bio Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.
Frequently Asked Questions about utorrent illegal
What is the punishment for Torrenting?
Up to five years in jail. Fines and charges of up to $150,000 per file. In addition to any other charges that might be brought against you, the copyright holder can file suit, which can result in legal fees and damages that must be paid.
Is downloading movies in uTorrent illegal?
The short answer: as long as the item is copyrighted and you don’t own it, then downloading it (for free) via torrent is illegal. Using a torrent client and downloading torrents in itself isn’t illegal, as you could be downloading things that aren’t protected by copyright.Nov 8, 2017
What is the legal use of uTorrent?
The most common legal use for µTorrent is bandwidth conservation. To distribute small amounts of data you can simply upload the files to a server and let people download them from there. However, with large amounts of data, multiplied by many downloads, you can quickly use up your Web host’s bandwidth limit.