Is Torrenting Illegal? [Everything You Need to Know]
Updated · Jul 15, 2022
Is Torrenting Illegal?
Torrenting is often associated with internet piracy and copyright infringement. The open access to high volumes of free music, movies and games just raises a red flag, doesn’t it?
Is torrenting illegal? How exactly does this tech work? And should you use it to download content from the web for free?
The answers to these questions aren’t as straightforward as you’d imagine.
So, we’ll begin with the basics and cover everything from what torrenting is to how to use it safely.
And once we answer it all, you may view this technology beyond its general reputation.
Now, let’s start!
What Is Torrenting?
Torrenting is the act of downloading and uploading files through the BitTorrent network. This is a communication protocol for peer-to-peer file sharing, which enables data exchange in a decentralized manner.
Now, in layman’s terms:
Basically, torrenting is like other forms of downloading, but the way you get files isn’t as clear-cut as it usually is. And also, you have more freedom when it comes to sharing your own data.
When fetching data from an HTTP protocol, it comes from an advanced server designed to handle traffic from large numbers of people at the same time.
With torrent applications, things work a bit differently.
Rather than being stored in one place, files you download come from hundreds of servers or even more. What’s even more unusual is that they’re almost exclusively personal computers. This means advanced hardware takes no part in this type of data exchange.
How did it all start?
The beginning was 20 years ago when a programmer, Bram Cohen, came up with a new way to transfer large files. It was a response to the incredibly slow internet at the time, which couldn’t facilitate large data moves.
Now that you know what torrenting is, it’s time to come up with an answer to the question - how does torrenting work?
How Does Torrenting Work?
Downloading files via peer exchange may sound confusing. In reality, the entire concept isn’t that difficult to grasp.
So, what’s the first thing you’re supposed to do when downloading something this way?
Well, first, you need either a torrent file or a magnet link to click on.
The former is a file on your computer that uses the .torrent filename extension and starts the download process upon a double click. The latter is a link that contains all the information your client needs to start scraping the file right away.
This sends out a request for the file you want, and your program tries to locate it on other computers running their file-sharing software.
Therefore, you can access data from more than just one place. So, when you download torrent films, for example, each file comes in bits and pieces from different users.
When you start downloading something, your torrent will choose from which servers to gather data. It’ll do so based on where it can find the file parts you need.
The transfer load is distributed between computers exchanging files to ensure no one’s bandwidth gets overloaded.
Let’s look at an example.
We’ll imagine you decided to share a 500MB file from your computer in a traditional manner. In case 1,000 people try to get it from you, all at the same time, it would exhaust your upload bandwidth entirely. The result — everyone’s torrent app will have to spend hours trying to download it.
Torrents eliminate issues like this with a simple solution. They let users scrape pieces of data from multiple places with that specific file (a.k.a. the swar) until they get the full version. The absence of a central server means no one's internet will suffer an enormous decrease in speed. And the users downloading the file will still get it at the end of the process.
Even if the original sharer stops distributing it, other users can still do it once they complete the download. That’s because of the peer-to-peer foundation of BitTorrent.
So, unless you change the preferences in the program you use, you’ll automatically share the computer file you’ve downloaded with users online.
This completes the cycle and ensures the original file remains available to everyone.
How quickly does one obtain something this way often depends on the seeders vs leechers ratio.
Wondering what these two concepts are?
We’ll explain that as well.
With most torrent programs, when you download a file, you automatically become a seeder. This means other users can scrape it from you whenever you’re online.
Of course, you can stop seeding whenever you want to.
Just keep in mind that zero seeds mean it’s impossible to download the file.
In the world of torrenting, people who download data from servers without seeding it are called leechers.
Some scrape more than they upload, while others upload absolutely nothing once they get the file they want.
Is Torrenting Safe and How to Torrent Safely?
BitTorrent is best known as a place for pirate movies, games, music, and other types of content.
This is something ISPs are aware of, which is why you may often hear the question “is torrenting safe?”
It’s just that there’s so much copyrighted content floating online, and it’s so easy to get access to it. Quite often, ISPs send warning letters and links to anti-piracy educational resources when they identify BitTorrent users.
While the practice should be approached with caution, it’s not as unsafe as it may seem.
Depending on where you’re based, the worst thing that can happen is your provider reducing your bandwidth or suspending your account.
If you don’t want that to happen, you’re probably wondering how to torrent safely.
The good news is that protecting your privacy when downloading files isn’t difficult. You can do it even if you don't have any special computer skills.
Also, you can choose between two common tools for doing so — VPN and Proxy.
If you don’t want anyone to know that you’re downloading content using BitTorrent, you can change your virtual location.
And how do you do that?
The answer is — using a VPN.
This little tool can make it appear as if you were browsing the internet from a different city, state, or country.
In addition, it can encrypt all the traffic passing through the tunnel, ensuring you stay safe when downloading.
That’s why VPN and torrenting go hand in hand.
Proxy also ensures you stay safe when torrenting It also changes your IP address, but it substitutes it with its own.
That way, your privacy remains intact, and you don’t even have to show your actual IP.
If you opt to download data this way, you can check out our list of the best proxy server services for this year.
Is Torrenting Illegal?
Now’s time to answer the big question - Is torrenting illegal?
When you think about it, it will make sense that this type of file transfer isn’t allowed. After all, it’s most commonly used to share copyrighted content with other internet users.
However, the tech behind BitTorrent hasn’t been designed specifically for this use. Therefore, there’s nothing illegal in torrenting itself.
But if you download unsanctioned copyrighted material, you break the law.
This also isn’t as clear as you’d imagine. There’s a lot of a gray area about what’s legal to torrent and what isn’t.
Still, even if you download something that obviously isn’t allowed, there’s a big chance you won’t be held responsible. This depends on your location, though.
For example, some countries have fines for all types, including movies, TV shows, and music torrenting.
These countries are:
- Great Britain
If you plan to download something while in one of these countries, using a VPN is an absolute must.
But there’s more...
Some countries have a different policy against torrenting. Here’s a list of those that have a history of shutting down these types of sites:
- South Africa
Many internet users aren’t aware of how it all works. That’s why we’ll check out another example.
For instance, is torrenting illegal in the USA?
Using this type of file transfer isn’t illegal in the USA. You can safely share data this way and not worry about breaking the law.
However, the moment you upload or download something copyrighted, your actions become subject to a fine.
And is torrenting illegal in other places around the world?
In many other countries, the answer is yes. However, depending on where you are, the fines are rarely imposed, meaning that in most of them you can freely download/share any type of content.
Even in that case, using a VPN or Proxy is a good idea.
Do’s and Don’ts of Torrenting Use
So, what should you and shouldn’t do when torrenting?
Let’s take a look!
Do Use a VPN or Proxy
Earlier, we talked about what both of these are. Therefore, you already know how they can shield your privacy when downloading.
Even if you don’t plan on picking up anything copyrighted, ensuring torrent anonymity is a good idea. When using a VPN or Proxy, you know no one has a clue that it was you who downloaded something.
Plus, many of these services have extra security features that can come in handy.
Do Choose Torrent Sites Carefully
Torrenting is way more popular than it may seem. There are plenty of websites where you can go to and start downloading content.
Unless you want to risk downloading infringing files, you should be very careful about what site you use.
The best thing you can do is find one that adheres to all laws and get your data from there. Vuze, Inc., for example, has a zero-tolerance policy for copyrighted content.
Do Be Careful When Seeding
Another important part of how to torrent safely is to be careful when seeding.
Whether you’re just seeding or want to share data, you have to know what you’re doing. The last thing you want to do is click on that “upload file” button and break some sort of law.
Don’t Use PirateBay
PirateBay has a bulk of content that’s just waiting to be downloaded.
However, it’s one of the places that expose you to an abundance of torrents monitored closely for infringement.
Unless you have plenty of experience with this tech, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere for content that’s not copyrighted.
Don’t Upload Your Own CD Rips
This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people engage in movie torrenting by uploading their own CD rips. Whatever type of computer file formats you have on original CDs or DVDs, sharing it this way can get you in trouble.
Even if you live in one of the countries where torrenting is legal, you don’t want to get copyrighted material out there.
What Happens if You’re Caught Pirating?
While torrenting is legal, downloading and sharing content someone else has protected isn’t. Digital piracy does come with consequences that vary depending on where you live.
We already mentioned earlier that ISPs pay attention to what type of data you're transferring using torrent. When they detect that you’re engaging in illegal activities, they can send you a warning or even reduce your bandwidth.
But that’s not the only reason why torrenting without VPN or Proxy isn’t recommended.
In some countries, you can earn a fine just for downloading a movie from using this tech.
For example, in Germany, this penalty can go all the way up to €1,000.
In the US, copying data and sharing it with programs like µTorrent can even lead to imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine.
That’s why you have to be extremely careful what kind of data you’re working with when using this tech. Also, you should only engage in torrenting with VPN or Proxy.
Is Torrenting Illegal? - Conclusion
So, the act of torrenting itself is 100% legal. All you do is transfer data differently than you do with a standard HTTP protocol. You can use torrent programs to download and share files with other users.
However, the moment you start transferring copyrighted data, you’re breaking the law. Based on your location, fines for that can be extremely high and even involve jail time.
This only shows how careful you have to be when downloading with torrents.
Some countries don’t impose any rules against piracy, but knowing what kind of content you're handling is always a good idea.
We highly recommend VPN or Proxy set up just in case.
Can You Go To Jail for Torrenting?
What Happens if You Get Caught Torrenting?
Is Torrenting Safe with a VPN?
Is Torrenting Illegal in USA?
Dejan is a techie at heart who always dreamed of turning his fascination with gaming into a career. He finds working for TechJury a perfect opportunity to express his views of all kinds of different software. Being an avid reader, particularly of fantasy and sci-fi, Dejan pursued a degree in English Language and Literature. When not at his computer, he’s watching sports or playing tabletop games.
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