The Legal Risk to Using Torrents

The world of peer to peer downloads is flourishing.  The technology has been around for years and although initially used to generally download copies of pirated software it is now used in the mainstream to distribute patches, software updates and all sorts of digital data.

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It is however still primarily used in the shady corners of the internet, simply because no one is specifically responsible for hosting the copyrighted material.  It’s why the huge torrent sites like the Pirate’s Bay have been able to defend themselves in court, they may enable the ability to download pirated copies of the latest movies but at no point do they host the offending files.  It takes advantage of the global confusion of internet law to provide a service which technically rarely directly breaches any laws.

There is a problem though for the users who download this content, because although the files are shared anonymously by thousands of users across the internet – it is individuals who actually download these files.   This is becoming the focus of copyright holders who are increasingly targeting the individuals who downloading the files, rather than the torrent sites which enable these downloads.

The reason is that using a BitTorrent client affords the user very little privacy, the reality is that it’s very easy to see the exact identity of who is downloading these illegal copies.  So the copyright holders can quickly obtain a huge list of people who have downloaded illegal copies of their content – which is a potential goldmine.  The reality is that all these people saving a few dollars from downloading rather than buying the latest DVD are risking a much larger fine issued directly or via a DCMA notice.   These torrents offer no privacy at all, and although it is possible to enable anonymous torrenting by using encryption and a VPN not many people take this option.

The idea many people have is that they are anonymous sitting at home at their computer screen which is unfortunately a long way from the truth.   The reality is that especially when using home internet connections that

  • They are easily identified.
  • What you do online is very visible.

Not only is this information available it’s also easily accessible to anyone with the right resources either commercially or legally.  People think that if they live in an open, democratic society their privacy will be respected online however that is simply not the case.  In the UK currently one of the biggest pieces of surveillance legislation is being implemented – dubbed the ‘snoopers charter’.

 

Further Reading

Netflix Blocking VPNs, James Williams, Weber Press, 2016

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