Is torrenting legal? Is torrenting safe? What are the consequences of getting caught downloading torrents? How can I protect myself when downloading torrents? These are some of the questions most torrenters grapple with.
In this post, we will provide answers to these questions and discuss ways to stay safe when torrenting. But before we delve into these issues, let’s briefly go over what a torrent is.
A torrent is a computer file that contains metadata about files to be distributed. It’s important to note that a torrent does not contain the content to be distributed but rather the information about the files such as size, folder structure, and names. Torrenters can use a BitTorrent software to easily download the torrent files to their personal computers.
Is Torrenting Legal?
Torrenting per se is not illegal. The practice only becomes illegal when you acquire copyrighted content - content that you do not have the right to own or distribute.
Consequences of Torrenting
There are several risks associated with downloading torrents including:
• Hack attacks – torrent files contain a list of network location trackers which make your IP address public to download peers. While this helps the torrent client to connect to users, it makes you vulnerable to hackers looking to steal identities and personal information.
• ISP penalties – torrenting uses a lot of bandwidth making it costly to your ISP. Consequently, your ISP may take certain actions to discourage you from downloading torrents. These include threatening to hand over your personal information to a copyright troll or throttling your Internet connection.
• Copyright trolls – copyright trolls are companies that snoop around torrent networks to locate people who illegally download copyrighted material. These companies get permission on behalf of the copyright holders to take legal action against such torrenters.
Copyrights trolls use aggressive and opportunistic strategies to extort money from people. They work by sending a list of IP addresses and settlement letters to Internet service providers (ISPs) who then forward the letters to their customers. In some cases, the company trolls send you the settlement letters directly via email, mail or deliver them by hand. The letters often ask for money or threaten legal action.
Settlement letters are not injunctions or legally binding documents. Therefore, if you receive such a letter, ignore it. Should the situation escalate, we recommend seeking legal advice.
How to Download Torrents Anonymously
While the number of torrenters who get caught is miniscule, it is best to protect your privacy. Here’s how you can anonymize your torrent activities:
1. Use a VPN when torrenting
One of the best ways to make your torrent activity virtually untraceable is to use a proxy or VPN. A VPN encrypts your device's connection to the internet and routes it through a secure server in a location of your choice. This shields your device’s IP address making it hard for copyright trolls to trace it. It also prevents ISPs from deciphering your internet traffic.
2. Use Tor
Tor works in a similar way to a VPN – it routes your internet traffic through an overlay network while encrypting traffic. While the network is secure, there have been incidents of spy bodies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) attacking computers. Due to privacy concerns, you may consider using a VPN instead of Tor.
3. Disable seeding
Another way to protect your torrent activity is to turn off seeding. This stops your computer from uploading files to the BitTorrent client. Avid torrenters would call this selfish but it’s a great way of enhancing your privacy while torrenting.
Torrenting isn’t bad, but downloading intellectual property and copyrighted material is. Some of the repercussions of downloading copyrighted content include receiving warning letters, your connection being throttled, large fines and even a jail term. To avoid legal problems, it’s best to anonymize your torrent activity or stop torrenting completely.