There was a time when people shared tapes and CD's and made copies of music and even movies. Those were simpler times and no one cared that much if a few people got songs or movies for free. The Internet has changed the world, especially in this area. Artists of all kinds want to protect their intellectual property -- not to mention their songs and other artistic creations. It is hard to blame them when they are losing sales, but many people still want to download files for free. There is a debate to be had here and it continues.
The legal debate continues, as well as the legal battles in courtrooms across the land. Some recent rulings could change the way things are done, but we are not close to a solution. It is best then to protect yourself as best you can until the issue is ironed out. In the meantime using a VPN for torrenting can give you protection from even accidental violations of copyright laws.
What is a torrent?
The latest way to get files off the Internet via downloading is called torrenting with bitTorrent technology that is a peer-to-peer network. People have files they are willing to share, and they are called "seeders." People on the network are able to get on those links, called torrents, and "leech" the files off the network. You would be getting your file from many sources this way.
The downside of this is that we all know there is no privacy on the Internet. Everything you do can be seen, and there is a permanent record that can be found. That is until the VPN, or virtual private network was invented. The VPN keeps your Internet provider from seeing what you are doing and keeps the authorities from seeing what you are downloading.
While no one openly encourages downloading illegal copyrighted material, you could become the target of an investigation even if everything you have downloaded is legal. This is why it is a good idea to have a VPN. It protects your privacy and can keep you from a lot of headaches as you use your computer.
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Is torrenting legal?
Using a torrent is not illegal in itself. The problem is, some things are legal to share online and some things are not. There are also things that are in a gray area. Using a VPN, or Virtual Private Network is one way to avoid trouble by keeping your downloading secret. For this reason alone you should use a VPN when torrenting. A VPN is a virtual private network that will give you privacy online, which in most cases gives you privacy and no one can see what you are downloading.
Is Torrenting safe
Years ago there was Napster, Limewire, and other services that offered peer to peer sharing capability. Copyright issues arose. Music and movie companies started suing people. To add to the trouble many of the files had malware and infected a lot of computers. These remain the two biggest issues people face when sharing files through a torrent network.
Using the VPN will keep your activity private, and that should keep you out of trouble if you should accidentally download something that has copyright attached. It can offer some protection against malware, but you need to be sure your antivirus software is up to date if you are torrenting.
A third aspect comes when some ISP providers slow, or throttle, connections when they suspect illegal or questionable downloads. A good VPN can also deal with this issue and keep your speeds up to where they should be.
A quality VPN should keep you safe when torrenting. Make sure it does the following:
Does not keep a log of your activity
Is not in a country where records can be demanded
Fast enough to not slow you down.
Enable a kill switch that will shut off the connection if your VPN fails.
Torrenting in the United States
According to PC Mag website, the reputation of Torrents is "both unfair and well-deserved" at the same time. The peer-to-peer idea decentralizes data. Information is shared by individual users, so it flows freely. Anyone can put anything out there that they wish. There are many legitimate uses for this type of file sharing. The decentralizing however make piracy easier, and that is the dark side.
For years artists have bemoaned lost profits caused by people downloading without paying. The tide now seems on the other side, with people being prosecuted for downloading. Another website, VPNMentor.com, says, "between serious security threats and rapidly increasing lawsuits from aggressive copyright "trolls," downloading torrents in the US has become a dangerous activity." The site adds several torrenting sites in the United States that have been shut down.
If you are careful to not download copyrighted file, you should be OK, but there are gray areas and you could accidentally get yourself in trouble. Keeping what you do hidden with a VPN is the sensible way to keep using a torrent if you are in the United States. Countries have their own laws, and some are very lax, but the United States is one of the strictest.
Here are the major pitfalls and why you need a VPN if you are torrenting in the United States.
Copyright trolls. These are companies representing record companies and movie studios. They scour the web to see when their client's material is being shared or downloaded. In 2018 alone there were more than 3,000 lawsuits file against BitTorrent users. They target users and try to get them to settle out of court, sometimes for a lot of money. There are fines and even potential jail for violators.
Suspicious sites. Sites that have been suspected of enabling illegal downloads have been shut down in the United States. The downside is, as some respectable ones are put out of business, worse ones show up to take their place. These can have a lot of pop-up ads, and worse, they can actually hack users' computers.
Throttling of your connection. Torrenting uses a lot of bandwidth, and some providers have limits on how much you can use. Many ISPs will throttle your speed if they see you using too much data.
When you are sharing files in a peer-to-peer network, your Internet provider can monitor and track all your activity. If "Trolls" find you downloading a lot of material, they could target you whether or not you are engaged in illegal activity. "Trolls" is a slang term to define companies representing artists that sue people for downloading their material without paying.
Once you are identified as a suspect, the ISP, who can monitor everything you do online, is obligated to then keep a record of what you do. That information is put into a database, and the government can access it at any time. Many ISPs give this information to the government willingly, and they give it to trolls as well.
Your internet provider can slow, or throttle, your service and even shut down your account in some cases. Worse though, is when you get targeted by the Trolls. If they suspect you, they will send you a threatening letter telling you to stop downloading and threaten you with a fine. They often offer to settle out of court and many people do this. They can take you to court, which can take a lot of time and money to defend yourself.
A new wrinkle
As noted, there have been a lot of lawsuits filed lately, more than 3,000 in 2018 alone. This was a huge increase over the previous year according to the National Law Review.
In October of 2019, the Review reported on a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that could have a major impact on file sharing and on lawsuits. Judge Michael Simons declared that more than a simple IP address of one individual would be needed to grant a verdict against one single individual. What this means is not yet clear, but it could have a major impact as the ramifications are sorted out.
Currently having an IP address that has downloaded copyrighted material has been enough to make you guilty of piracy. This ruling appears to fly in the face of that practice, but this was just one court and the rest of the legal world is still working out the ramifications.
In peer-to-peer file sharing, many computers are being used. When you download a file, you are downloading from many computers, and many people are "seeding" or allowing their files to be copied. This ruling appears to say that one individual cannot be held responsible for the actions of the entire group.
"Because multiple devices and individuals may be able to connect via an IP address, simply identifying the IP subscriber solves only part of the puzzle. A plaintiff must allege something more to create a reasonable inference that a subscriber is also an infringer." the Review quoted SImon as saying in his ruling.
Simon further wrote that if there is no intentional inducement or encouragement, "an individual's failure to take affirmative steps to police his internet connection is insufficient to state a claim."
The last year, 2018, was a record year for these illegal download lawsuits. According to court records, two companies were behind more than half of those suits.
For a few years, thousands of people would be named in a lawsuit, sort of a class-action suit in reverse. That practice faded away because it was not practical, and now individuals or very small groups are targeted. This is why there was a spike in lawsuits last year. There were about 1,000 cases the previous year, and the previous high was 2,887in 2015.
Most of these cases do not make it to the courts as the "trolls" try to get people to settle instead of going to a trial. Many people seem willing to take this route instead of a stressful and long term courtroom process.
VPN to the rescue
The latest ruling could change things, but as an Internet user, you are still vulnerable while the details are worked out. This ruling could change things, but we don't know which way yet. It could make it harder to sue individual users, or it could make it easier.
This is why a VPN is your best protection if you are downloading files from the Internet.
What does a VPN do?
A VPN essentially hides any peer-to-peer activity you might be involved in, making it undetectable. It also offers you an unrelated level of privacy as well as some added protection against hacking and malware.
The VPN does this by changing your IP address so it cannot be tracked to your computer. It also scrambles or encrypts your data, so it cannot be recognized.
Not all VPN's are equal, but the good ones will hide your activity even from your own ISP. Your provider may be able to see that you are using a VPN, but that is all it will be able to see. Obviously having such a filter is no indication or proof of illegal activity.
The best VPNs protect you in this way. They also can help you with things like helping you find the best servers for torrents and other information you might need if you are torrenting. Another important feature is the kill switch. Should your VPN fail or go offline for some reason, the kill switch will shut off your torrents so they will still not be detected.
Even if you do not use a torrent, you could benefit from having a VPN because of the privacy it offers. It does not replace antivirus protection, but it does offer an added level of security from hackers and malware.