Let’s face it – rates for some entertaining content are extremely high. You’ve probably at least once thought about downloading a new film or a video game for free (or actually had it from the Internet). However, analyzing the recent trend of stiffening the punishment for copyright breach, such a decision becomes more and more risky year by year. Meanwhile, the discussion about torrenting legality becomes really acute.
In a few words: the answer to “Is torrenting illegal?” is no, unless the files you download are copyrighted. As soon as you live in the country, which complies with the Universal Copyright Convention or the Berne Convention, the usage of such materials without the permission of their owner may become a court case. In that case, your actions may be qualified as copyright abuse and, if the court proves your fault, you may be punished with a huge penalty or with a real jail term.
Of course, the perspective of being punished because of a single downloading scares people, especially if the file they try to reach is a scientific study or some other educational content, which is essential for further exploration or for self-learning. Thus, many Internet users wonder how to torrent safely, and we’re going to help them find the solution.
How To Torrent Safely: VPN services
Our article is not about the legitimacy of using the BitTorrent protocol for the purpose of getting access to the copyrighted materials. Such activity, without doubt, will be regarded as the law breaching, and, if you are caught by the responsible authority, the aftermath may be really unpleasant.
Our goal is to avoid such outcome and to find the safest way of downloading .torrent files. And the reliable solution already exists in the face of VPN services. Let’s learn more about VPN for torrenting, shall we?
What is VPN and how does it work
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. To describe this technology briefly, with a VPN your computer connects to the Internet through the VPN server. It encrypts the information your search request carries, and hides your actual location/IP address from the Internet Service Provider (ISP) or request receiver (online website).
With the regular Internet connection, your device addresses to the website directly. It creates plenty of opportunities for frauds to steal or observe your private information. This is a very unsafe way of the Net surfing, especially if you use public Wi-Fi hotspot, visit websites with the outdated tunneling protocol, or use Torrent to download copyrighted files.
VPN technology, at the same time, allows you to hide your traffic (location, IP, and even sites you visit) from ISP and other supervisors.
So, finally – is torrenting safe?
Yes – if you use Torrent to share or download regular files which are not protected by the copyright.
That said, downloading copyrighted files through Torrent without any precautionary measures is not safe. This way your online activity is available for the authorities and your Internet Service Provider. So, in case you live in a country with strict copyright laws, it’s a reckless decision, which will probably lead to many troubles.
If you weigh all pros and contras of using Torrent for downloading restricted materials, you absolutely should protect your Internet traffic with VPN.
The main rule of the safe torrenting
To protect yourself we recommend using a reliable VPN service, which, among other matters:
- needs to have reliable VPN protocols (IKEv2, SSTP, OpenVPN or L2TP/IPsec at a pinch)
- shouldn’t save your log files, which contain user activity, IP address, user devices, timestamps history
- should have a comparatively fast downloading speed
In addition, we highly advise using paid VPN services instead of free programs, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If the service doesn’t demand money from its users, it gets a wage from some third parties (which almost certainly steal users’ log history), or cooperates with the authorities.
There are many VPN services to choose from around the Internet, which may have different protocols (PPTP, SSTP, L2TP/IPsec and others) and different privacy policies (saving logs, cooperation with authorities). It’s in your best interest to delve into the VPN service’s rules & regulations before using it to know what you’re in for.
How Torrent operates, and how you might be caught when downloading illegal materials
When you use a standard way of downloading files from the Internet, which is googling the name of the film/book/song and going for the first result on a search page, you reach the file on the server, which hosts the site.
Torrent, basically, can be imagined as a wide web of nodes, where each node represents a computer holding a file you want to get. Instead of taking data from a single server, the BitTorrent protocol borrows small parts of files from numerous computers, making the downloading process much lighter and faster.
Torrent uses P2P (peer-to-peer) architecture for the purpose of building a direct connection between two and more computers, eliminating the need for the centralized repository. Thus, when some movie or book appears in Torrent format, there’s almost no technical way of deleting it or restricting it from further spreading: when one user downloads (leeches) file on his computer, he becomes the node (seed) from which the other people can leech that file.
This is the reason why the authorities keep a close watch on your Torrent activity – they simply can’t govern the Torrent Net bluntly; thus they have to threaten users with punishment for using it.
How users are caught when downloading copyrighted materials via Torrent
Despite being the irrepressible way of sharing files, the Torrent protocol is, unluckily, absolutely transparent when it comes to its users’ protection: it couldn’t be any easier for your ISP to check your Internet Protocol address while you’re leeching or seeding. And, if your IP address is known, your location and even your personal identity automatically become revealed too. As you can see, there’s no way you won’t be noticed if you download copyrighted files via Torrent without the undertaken protection measures.
Moreover, your Internet provider isn’t the only concerned party when it comes to the illegal spreading of copyrighted materials – right owners in the name of affluent worldwide-known companies lose millions of dollars due to the existence of Torrent. This is why they take their own anti-piracy measures and hire so-called copyright trolls.
Copyright trolls – not the fantastic creatures from fairy tales, but more like regular computer users – wedge in the Torrent seed/leech system and check other users’ IP addresses. With this information on hands trolls can send users warning letters – and this leads us to the topic of the next paragraph.
The possible aftermath of the copyrighted materials spreading
The most fortunate option of copyright abuse punishment is a warning letter from your Internet provider. This way the ISP shows that your actions were noticed, and, in case you’ll continue to download copyrighted materials, harsher measures would be assumed, including police encroachment.
You may as well receive a letter on your email from a copyright troll, where you would be asked to stop contributing to the dissemination of copyrighted files. A small tip: your IP address activity doesn’t necessarily mean that exactly you were using Torrent on your computer, while the response to the troll from your private email box, where you indirectly confirm your personality (and, therefore, guilt) might be used against you if this case is placed on trial. So, such letters should better be ignored.
The worst scenario is the actual trial after which you might be sentenced to the real imprisonment or to the enormous penalty – the measure of the punishment depends on the country you live in. In the United States, for example, the highest prison term goes to five years, while the fine you might pay is up to $250 000.
VPN and the other alternatives
As you can see, there’s no good scenario if you’re charged with the copyright violations. Hence, some protection is a must if you need to download something from Torrent.
Apart from the already mentioned VPN method, there are also some of the equally reliable instruments you may use to hide your Internet traffic. We’re talking about a Proxy connection and a Tor browser.
Tor – The Onion Router – uses complicated onion encryption, which is even more reliable than the VPN technology, yet, which has its own disadvantages like a very slow connection speed or blocking of Tor Nodes inside some of the Internet providers’ networks. Yet, if you’re not planning to download all 850 episodes of Doctor Who, then consider using Tor to be completely sure about your security.
The operational principles of the Proxy connection are quite similar to the VPN ones. The difference, however, is obvious when you apply to the Proxy server: it turns out that your data is sent as it is, without encryption. The proxy server method has a higher downloading speed than VPN, but it definitely doesn’t represent the passable level of protection. Thus, we don’t recommend using Proxy-connection instead of a VPN service.
You might have heard this name if you had a computer in the late 90s. Usenet was one of the first communities which appeared on the Internet, and it managed to make it out to our years without major changes.
Just like in the past, Usenet almost doesn’t have any censorship, which creates lots of possibilities for piracy. Nowadays, to use the service, you’ll have to pay around $10 or $20 per month, which would give you unlimited access to a huge database of the copyrighted materials.
Due to the “entrance fee” and the reliable SSL connection protocols, Usenet is a convenient source of copyrighted files. You can as well use it with VPN – the speed will reduce, but the confidence in the protection will significantly rise.
What you can get when streaming copyrighted content
The answer is short – streaming of illegal materials is also illegal, as soon as you don’t get the permission of the owner when creating a copy of the material, protected by copyright. However, watching films for free online, likewise listening to music on the Internet, isn’t considered as an unlawful activity, because no copies of the file are substantively created.
Let’s summarize all the points we’ve covered so far:
- Torrenting isn’t an illegal activity unless you share or download files, protected by the copyright.
- When seeding or leeching materials via the Torrent protocol, your IP address is visible for your Internet Service Provider, and for any other skillful user.
- Your location and personality can be revealed with the help of IP address.
- The punishment for the copyright violations can go up to $250 000 or five years of imprisonment in the USA. In different countries, the penalty may vary.
- The most reliable way to protect your Internet traffic from the authorities is to use VPN.
- Aside from VPN, there are also such useful instruments as Tor browser or Proxy-server, which can be used under some circumstances instead of VPN services.
- In case you stream copyright content, you may also be accused in the law breaching. At the same time, watching or listening to the illegal content online (without downloading) is not considered an illegal activity.
We hope that this article will ensure you from the unpleasant aftermath of copyright breaching. Torrent is really cool, but only if you know how to use it correctly!