Torrenting In The USA

I do think it’s pretty sleazy to steal music and stuff, so I don’t do it. However, I would also be equally as worried about infecting my computer with a computer virus. For people who do know that downloading torrents is wrong, I think this should serve as a deterrent anyway. It’s probably way cheaper to just buy that song than to fix your computer because it’s broke due to a virus!

What is an Illegal Torrent?

An illegal torrent is a file or multiple files downloaded without the permission of the copyright holder. In layman’s terms, the person downloading the files did not purchase them, nor were they gifted these files. The term illegal torrent is somewhat misleading because a torrent is simply a file that tells a BitTorrent™ client where to download the actual illegal files, i.e, music, games, or movies. Most people, however, refer to torrents as if they are the actual copyrighted music, game, or movie files that are downloaded illegally. Due to this, torrents in general have developed a bad reputation, even though plenty of files available through BitTorrent™ technology are purchased, no longer copyrighted, or available free to use in the first place.

Torrents are downloaded using BitTorrent™ protocol, which enables a person to download from hundreds of other people’s computers at once. BitTorrent™ technology was developed in the early 2000s and became extremely popular because, in many situations, it lets people download files more quickly than just downloading it from one computer. Not all files are shared through BitTorrent™ protocol are legally owned by the sharer, however, which leads to Internet piracy. It also leads to more infected computers; studies show that a healthy percentage of torrent files — both legal and illegal — contain malware, which can range in severity from pop-up ads to software designed to help the intruder gather credit card numbers.

Some people prefer the experience of seeing a movie at the theater rather than illegally downloading it.

In some countries, there are repercussions for downloading an illegal torrent. For example, in the United States, some people have been given hefty fines for illegal music downloading. These repercussions are few and far between across the world, however, because of the sheer number of illegal torrent downloads. In fact, it is estimated that about 50% of the Internet’s total traffic is caused by torrent downloading, though many of these downloads are legal.

Most illegally downloaded torrents are music or movie files.

There are various reasons why copyrighted files are shared on BitTorrent™ protocol so often. Many people disagree with copyright laws, especially those of the United States, and view them as a form of censorship. Sometimes, the downloaded digital media is not legally available in the user’s own country but is available for download via BitTorrent™ protocol, or the person cannot afford to pay for the software. Still, other times an illegal torrent is downloaded, shared, or both out of apathy or ignorance of copyright laws. Whatever the reason, illegal torrent downloading is a widespread crime.

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Discussion Comments

anon937676 March 6, 2014

This post is very interesting as it is not the torrents that are illegal; it is the contents of the music, movies and software in the torrent that are illegal and people can’t keep track of it so authorities and Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) shut down or don’t allow you to access the sites or files.

However, there are other people who risk their lives because they start their own bit torrent sited that are exactly the same, only on a proxy server (different hoster).

James13 March 29, 2013

Is there is a list of files that are considered illegal to download? I have extensively searched and not found any list usable as a guide for what may or may not be downloaded.

How can ignorance not be an excuse when there is nothing available on the internet that lists what may or may not be downloaded?

In conclusion, no organization, government, or individual should be allowed to prosecute for downloading or uploading anything available on the internet without a commonly known, easily searchable, and widely publicized list of the prosecutable downloads.

I suggest that a single web address be used to display a database of prosecutable files available on the internet that includes, but is not limited to: enough info to identify the file by file name; expiration date of enforcement; type of enforcement (possession, upload, download); organization, government, or individual claiming the enforcement privilege.

anon324691 March 12, 2013

Downloading illegal torrents is so easy to do. If they really cared so much, they would remove all torrents, illegal and legal ones.

Also, technically everything is piracy these days. Lending a DVD to a friend to watch is piracy.

anon319348 February 12, 2013

If it’s not right to download pirated movies, then why is it so easy to do? I mean, it takes one click on so many free sites, it’s a joke. They say it’s wrong then they give us all we need to commit the crime.

anon278356 July 6, 2012

Can’t live without torrent.

That’s my motto. Torrent has helped me get almost everything I want, from nostalgic music to awesome next-gen games.

anon262061 April 18, 2012

I don’t want to download a file illegally – I really don’t. I am looking for an audiobook which I can’t find anywhere. It’s not even listed on the author’s own website. I would be more than willing to buy it if I could, but I can’t. If torrent will help me get the audiobook, if it’s my only option, I’ll use it.

julies September 29, 2011

I found this article very interesting as I have always wondered if downloading torrents is illegal.

I have come across a lot of websites where this looks like it is perfectly legitimate. I would still be concerned about computer issues though.

Any way I look at it, I don’t see it as being a very good idea. If I want something, I don’t mind paying for it. That way I know that I have it legally and won’t be infecting my computer.

andee September 29, 2011

Even if some files are legal to download through a torrent, I don’t think it would be worth the risk of possibly infecting my computer.

It seems like I have to constantly go to greater lengths to make sure my computer stays clean and doesn’t get a virus or any malware on it.

If I did a bunch of downloading like that, I think I would only be putting my computer at greater risk.

This isn’t much of an issue for me because I don’t do much downloading on my computer. For someone like my son who likes to download a lot of music and games, this would be something he would be more interested in doing.

SZapper September 29, 2011

@JessicaLynn – Not everyone is tech savvy though. I can easily imagine someone who doesn’t know that much about the Internet thinking it would be okay to download stuff from a torrent. After all, if it’s illegal, why would it be so easy to do?

I do think it’s pretty sleazy to steal music and stuff, so I don’t do it. However, I would also be equally as worried about infecting my computer with a computer virus. For people who do know that downloading torrents is wrong, I think this should serve as a deterrent anyway. It’s probably way cheaper to just buy that song than to fix your computer because it’s broke due to a virus!

wander September 28, 2011

@Mae82 – I really think that it is what you download that makes the files illegal. If you are downloading the latest blockbuster movie, that is still in theaters, you can be sure it is pirated.

With smaller bands, the issue becomes a lot more difficult. Some bands put their own torrents out their for exposure, which makes them fine to download. Same with authors who self-publish and distribute some of their work for free as ebooks.

I think you can easily figure out if what your downloading is illegal by asking whether or not you would pay for it in a store. If it has a price tag, it is unlikely the distributors want it going around for free.

JessicaLynn September 27, 2011

I really don’t think that ignorance is an excuse for downloading a file illegally. And honestly, I don’t think it’s even possible to be ignorant of copyright laws in the United States anyway.

Most people know you have to pay for music and DVD’s at the store. So why all of a sudden would it just be free for you over the Internet? Even if you try to tell yourself you’re not hurting anyone, you’re still stealing.

Mae82 September 27, 2011

Is it illegal to download torrents, or does it depend on the actual file contents?

I have been using a torrent searcher to help me find ebooks to read and samples of music from bands that I love.

There are so many free music torrent downloads available that it is really hard to tell what is up for everyone to share, and what is being pirated. I suppose ignorance isn’t an excuse for pirating files, but with thousand of people sharing things online, how can anyone possibly keep track of it all? I love the files I have collected, but if downloading those torrents is illegal, I guess I’ll just have to quit cold turkey.

Torrenting In The USA

Downloading torrents in the USA

Can you safely visit file-sharing sites and download torrents in the United States? Before you install a BitTorrent client and start sharing files, you should explore the legal issues associated with it. Security threats, lawsuits, and reduced Internet speeds are a few of the potential problems you may face.

Table of Contents show

Is Torrenting in the US Legal?

Yes, downloading files through P2P (Peer to Peer) is legal in the United States. BitTorrent technology and protocols are not illegal, but the content you download may be.

You can find many legitimate torrents. Some content creators use P2P file-sharing to distribute their digital work efficiently. It reduces the demands for creators or developers while giving users a faster way to download files.

You can find music, independent movies, software, free trials, and other digital goods distributed legally through torrents. However, this process becomes illegal when you attempt to share copyrighted material without the copyright holder’s authorization. Downloading such content is considered illegal.

Despite the legal concerns, millions of users still use BitTorrent programs to download their favorite media. In fact, about one-fourth of all torrenting in the US includes copyrighted television series and films.

Laws Against Copyrighted Content in the USA

Over the years, legislators passed several different laws to help combat piracy. These laws include the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which punishes for distributing copyrighted works. However, the DMCA laws typically pertain to the sites that host torrent files and individuals who upload the protected content.

Individual users may face prosecution under the No Electronic Theft Act (NET Act), passed in 1997. This law allows lawsuits against users that download illegal movies, TV shows, games, and other copyrighted digital content.

ISPs and Copyright Watchdogs Monitor Trackers

A digital fingerprint showing user activity

The most significant risks of torrenting include malicious attacks and legal threats, depending on the content you download. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and monitoring agencies (copyright watchdogs or trolls) monitor public torrent trackers.

The trackers contain the IP addresses of the peers in the swarm. Anyone following the activity in those trackers can see the IP addresses. The monitoring groups look for cases of copyright infringement. ISPs and attorneys representing copyright holders send notices to discourage torrenting activity, but they can take additional action, such as filing a lawsuit.

Torrenting Lawsuits Rarely Make it to Court

In 2011, a judge granted a $20,000 judgment for copyright infringement in a file-sharing case with two defendants. However, in most cases, lawyers file lawsuits against an entire swarm of file-sharing users. The lawyers that pursue these cases are nicknamed copyright trolls. However, most of these cases have never proceeded, as several judges dismissed the lawsuits.

Besides these lawsuits, copyright holders typically go after the sites that host the torrents. Movie studios and other companies work with ISPs to block known pirate sites and trackers. Some torrent sites voluntarily remove links to illegal content. For example, Mininova only hosts freely licensed digital content. In 2005, BitTorrent signed an agreement with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to remove illegal links.

What does this mean for you? If you attempt to download protected movies or shows, your ISP may send a threatening letter. There’s also the possibility of becoming a defendant in a lawsuit that could never proceed to court.

ISPs May Throttle Your Speeds or Cancel Your Services

When your ISP detects illegal downloads, you may receive a warning notice. However, it doesn’t necessarily arrive immediately. Most ISPs retain data related to your internet activity for several months or longer.

For example, Comcast retains data for about six months, while AT&T keeps a log for one year. Keeping the data for longer gives copyright trolls more time to track down users that downloaded protected content.

ISP warning notice of illegal downloads

They use deep packet inspection (DPI) to monitor your downloads and the sites you visit. ISPs can throttle download speeds and even restrict access to known trackers. In some cases, they have canceled the services of users who downloaded such files.

How Can You Protect Yourself When Sharing Files in the USA?

You can do quite some things to be on the safe side when torrenting in this country. The most basic actions you can take are getting an antivirus and downloading torrents from reputable sources.

But, when it comes to protecting yourself against monitoring agencies in the USA, the most important thing is to use a Virtual Private Network. This software changes everything about how others identify you on the Internet. Instead of seeing your IP address in the swarm of seeders and leechers, ISPs and watchdog groups see the server’s IP address that you’re connected to. In other words, a VPN helps you remain anonymous by not showing your real IP.

What is the Best VPN for Torrenting in the USA?

These are our favorite VPNs for torrenting in America. Not only do they allow file-sharing in the USA, but they also have a combination of features, tools, and server locations that makes it ideal for this region.

NordVPN

  • Several P2P-optimized servers in North America
  • Essential safety tools and a strong encryption
  • Based in Panama, a location with no data retention laws

Is Torrenting Illegal?

Torrent Icon

Torrent Icon Flat

T orrenting is a massively popular method to download the latest movies, TV series, music, books, games – you name it.

The popularity of torrenting is mainly driven by the fact that it’s free. All you need is a computer and an internet connection to download and share files!

That being said, there are some important questions to ask about torrenting, such as whether torrenting is illegal, whether it’s safe, whether or not you could get caught and many more.

In this guide, I’ll give you the definitive answer to all of your questions and discuss the issues associated with torrenting.

What Is Torrenting?

Normally, when you download a movie or video to your device, you press the download link and your computer connects to the server of the file for the download to start. This means that you’re downloading a file from a single server.

Torrenting works differently compared to this method of downloading files. That’s because a torrent breaks up one large file and splits it up into many different, smaller files.

Instead of downloading a file from one server, torrent software applications such as BitTorrent or uTorrent connect to a large number of other computers based on the principle of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing.

Torrent software allows you to download small pieces of a file from every computer in the P2P network.

Server Based File Sharing Graphic P2P Network Graphic

Before the existence of P2P torrent networks, copyrighted files were stored on a single server. Websites hosting copyrighted material on a server were easily traced by government institutions and shut down.

Peer-to-peer networks provide a highly decentralized environment to store files, which makes it immensely more difficult for authorities to shut down the process of file sharing because there isn’t a central server hosting the files.

How Do Torrents Work?

The technical process of torrenting consists of sharing small files, which are also referred to as “packets.” This process is divided into two parts: leeching and seeding.

First, let me explain the two terminologies:

1

Leeching

You are a leecher when you download a file, plain and simple. But, the term is sometimes referred to in a bad way, when people stop uploading a file after they’ve completed the download and therefore don’t help other leechers out.

However, most torrent software disallows users to disable the upload limit entirely. As shown below, the minimum upload speed in uTorrent is 5 kB/s.

Leeching - screenshot 1

You could say that torrent clients believe that “sharing is caring” – if you download a file, you should also give back to the network.

2

Seeding

You are a seeder when you download a torrent and upload the “packets” you have downloaded at the same time.

The original file is moved from the initial seed into smaller “packets” to other computers in a P2P network. The seeders store bits and pieces of the big file and, when it’s their turn, share that further throughout a P2P network.

That means that all the seeders together represent one big file as a whole.

Moreover, you aren’t downloading a file from one location, but instead from a number of different seeders, who are hosting the files your torrent software is requesting to download.

In return for allowing you to leech those files, the software establishes a connection between you and other leechers – so they can download the packets you’ve already completed downloading. In other words, you become a seeder.

3

The Torrenting Process

When you want to download the latest action movie, it works like this:

You download small “packets” from many different seeders, who upload parts of the movie in a P2P network. Once you have completed downloading certain “packets,” your torrent software will start sharing these “packets” with other people who want to download the movie (leechers).

At this point, you are still downloading the remaining “packets” to complete the entire download. This process will continue until you’ve completed downloading all the required packets to complete the entire file of the movie.

Note: The torrent software automatically enables uploading the file until you manually switch it off.

Is Torrenting Safe?

The question applies to two different areas. First, is the actual process of torrenting safe for your computer in terms of malware?

To begin with, the process of torrenting is pretty safe. Before downloading a torrent, I recommend reading the comments and reviews from the community.

If the comments are positive, it’s safe to say that the torrent doesn’t contain any malicious files.

In addition, many torrent websites such as The Pirate Bay rate the uploader or show a “trusted source” sign, as shown below:

Torrent from a trusted uploader.

Still, you should always be cautious when it comes to downloading torrents. It’s better to avoid torrent files from unknown uploaders, without any ratings or comments.

Is Torrenting Illegal?

The act of torrenting itself is not illegal. However, downloading and sharing unsanctioned copyrighted material is very much illegal, and there is always a chance of getting caught by the authorities.

Torrenting non-copyrighted material is perfectly fine and is allowed, as there are no restrictions that apply to that.

In many countries, such as the U.S., governments and Internet Server Providers (ISPs) collaborate to catch people who distribute unsanctioned copyrighted material.

ISPs might not always actively search for torrenters, but your ISP could be subpoenaed by government authorities or a court order to hand over your personal information if they suspect that you’re torrenting copyrighted material. I’ll talk more about the consequences of being caught torrenting later.

Government authorities also often force ISPs to block torrent websites, but this seems to be rather ineffective because users can use VPNs to access the websites, which I’ll discuss later as well.

Can I Get Caught Torrenting?

Simply put: yes, you can most definitely get caught torrenting.

Piracy Download

The authorities and ISPs can easily catch people who distribute copyrighted material without any privacy precautions.

The ISP can spot users who are sharing files based on their IP address. Torrenting client software stores all IP addresses of seeders and leechers as well.

By simply monitoring a torrent file, the ISP has access to all IP addresses downloading a specific torrent.

In pretty much every case, the ISP only needs an IP address to figure out who’s downloading a torrent and from where. As a result, the authorities could come knocking on your door.

Copyright Trolls

Copyright trolls are individuals or companies that are in the business of going after torrent pirates. These businesses locate torrenters who illegally distribute copyrighted material based on their IP addresses.

When they successfully locate a torrent pirate, they sign a deal of approval with the copyright holders to take legal actions on their behalf against the pirate.

In some cases, Hollywood production companies hire these businesses to specifically snoop on pirates distributing their content illegally.

Copyright trolls employ “scare tactics” to frighten people who they accuse of copyright infringement by sending out threatening letters or emails.

What Are the Consequences of Getting Caught?

Typically, copyright trolls have a legal strategy in place that summons the ISP to send you an threatening email.

So, when you get caught for torrenting unsanctioned copyrighted material, you could receive a settlement offer from your ISP.

Through your ISP, the copyright troll threatens to sue you for a ridiculous sum of money, but then offer a settlement at only 2-5% of the original penalty.

Although you’re not legally obligated to pay them anything at all, copyright trolls play a numbers game and hope for a certain percentage of the infringers to accept the settlement offer.

It’s more profitable for copyright trolls to target those who accept the initial settlement because pursuing a trial in court is both time-consuming and a lengthy process.

In most cases, I would ignore the first settlement letter. However, that doesn’t mean the copyright troll can’t intensify the threat or eventually take it to court.

In most countries, such as the U.S., the legal system makes a clear distinction between torrenters who are frequently distributing copyrighted material, and torrenters who only occasionally download a file.

Furthermore, it’s also possible to receive a penalty from your ISP. For instance, your ISP could reduce your internet speed as a punishment or even threaten to hand over your personal information to the authorities or copyright trolls.

That said, there are some precautions you can take to avoid legal threats, which I’ll discuss in the next section.

How to Protect Yourself When Torrenting

Obviously, if you want to avoid ramifications, it would be best not to torrent at all. But, if you want to keep torrenting, it’s important to protect your online privacy and to stay under the radar of copyright trolls.

To be clear, I don’t condone or encourage torrenting that involves copyrighted material. You’re responsible for the potential risks and legal trouble. Still, if you’re sure you want to do so, here are a few precautions you can take to minimize your risk of getting caught.

1

Use a VPN for Torrenting

NordVPN homepage with cover image.

Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the most effective way to protect your online privacy.

A VPN offers a solution in two ways:

  • 1 It shields your IP address by routing all of your online behaviour through a server in another location, which changes your IP address. The VPN creates an extra layer of protection and makes it hard to keep track of your online activity.
  • 2 A good VPN encrypts all of your internet traffic so that your ISP can’t monitor your activities.

Note: choose a quality VPN for high-end protection. It’s important that your VPN doesn’t keep logs of your activities.

Also, select a VPN that isn’t likely to hand over your data to the authorities. You can check out my top 5 list of the best VPNs for torrenting, my post on the best VPN for uTorrent users and this guide on why some VPNs are better for torrenting than others.

2

Use the Tor Network

Tor Browser Image

The Tor browser prevents anyone from tracking your internet connection. Tor encrypts the data multiple times via Tor relays.

Tor is a browser often used by journalists and activists in countries where internet traffic is tightly monitored. You can read more on setting up the Tor browser here.

3

Be a Smart Torrenter

My last recommendation is to be smart when torrenting by avoiding the latest movies, games and music. Copyright trolls are more likely to be snooping around in these torrents due to the high number of torrenters downloading the latest releases.

Is Streaming Replacing Torrenting?

Many avid torrenters have made the transition from uTorrent and BitTorrent to streamed content. Some prefer “web-browser streamed” content, while others install and customize software tools, like Kodi and Plex.

Kodi and Plex are both open-source software media centers. The software allows you to stream and play all kinds of content, such as videos and music, on various devices. Unlike Netflix, Kodi and Plex both stream copyrighted content without permission from the copyright holders.

Because of this, Kodi is under a lot of legal pressure at the time of this writing, so you might have to look for an alternative in the future.

What it comes down to is this: from a legal perspective, streaming copyrighted material from a pirated source is illegal.

If you want to protect your online privacy and avoid potential legal ramifications when streaming, simply follow the precautions listed above.

The Definitive Answer

It’s very simple: Torrenting is legal, but torrenting unsanctioned copyrighted material is very illegal.

Remember that your ISP and copyright trolls constantly monitor peer-to-peer networks (such as uTorrent) and may take action if they catch you torrenting copyrighted files.

To protect your online privacy, follow the provided instructions. Privacy-minded torrenters always use good VPNs to protect their online privacy and/or use the Tor Network.

At the end of the day, it’s at your own risk to torrent – be that legal or illegal.

Torrenting FAQs

Is the Pirate Bay Legal?

Visiting the Pirate Bay website itself is not illegal. However, what you do on the website can certainly be illegal. If you download content that you don’t own the license to, that’s illegal.

Torrenting in the U.K.: Is It Legal?

It’s absolutely illegal to torrent in the U.K., and you can be fined if you torrent copyrighted content, which is why a VPN is absolutely essential if you’re torrenting in the U.K., even for innocuous files.

Is BitTorrenting Safe?

BitTorrenting is safe and legal, as long as you’re not sharing copyrighted files. The movie and recording industries have sporadically conducted campaigns to detect and punish those that share copyrighted files. While the chances of being forced to pay a settlement are quite slim, if you are sued the penalty can be high.

How Do I Protect Myself While Torrenting?

To be completely safe from any legal issues, just don’t torrent files. Hoever, if you must share files, invest in a reliable VPN (like NordVPN), that supports P2P file sharing and that provides strong protection for all of your online activities.