The world of torrenting may be murky at times. Many torrenters have questions about the topic. For example, is it safe to torrent content? Is it legal? How can users safely download torrents? What is torrenting, anyway? If you’ve ever had a question about the subject, look no further for answers. They’re all right here.
- What is torrenting?
- Is it safe?
- Is it legal?
- Streaming vs. torrenting
- What happens if I get caught?
- Should I use a VPN?
- How else can I torrent safely?
- Other tips
What is Torrenting?
Despite the fancy name, torrenting is actually just a way of sharing files online. The difference between this and other forms of file sharing comes down to the mechanics behind accessing the files. A normal file downloads as one package, from one server. However, torrents are broken into small portions, called packets. Packets are then spread out across multiple computers, which function as servers. Each server hosting part of a file is called a peer. When a person begins a download, each server then contributes their packets, which form a complete file on the destination device. For a more in-depth explanation of how torrenting works, check out this article by HowToGeek, which goes through the process using BitTorrent.
Is it Safe?
Many users who torrent content are rightfully concerned about their digital safety. Because of this, they may question the safety of their torrents, as they should. So, is torrenting safe? Unfortunately, there is no clean-cut answer to this question. In order to download content, users must access a client such as uTorrent or Bitcomet. These softwares make file sharing possible and on their own are safe. However, users generate the content that passes through each client. Even if the clients monitor content, catching malware and other malicious content is often impossible. That means, even if the downloading software is safe, there’s no guarantee that the downloaded content will be as well. Thankfully, many simple methods exist to safely download torrents, which you will see later in this article.
Is it Legal?
One of the most common questions regarding downloading torrents is, “is it legal?” The short answer to that question is yes. Torrenting is legal. In fact, it’s not even morally grey. The technology was designed simply as a method of file sharing. However, not all uses of the technology are legal. For example, many users download movies and TV shows they don’t own the rights to. In this case, they are committing digital piracy which is absolutely illegal in many regions of the world. Users caught pirating content by way of torrent may be subject to punishment under applicable laws.
Streaming vs. Torrenting
There has been a decline in the use of torrenting thanks to the rising popularity of streaming. Unlike with torrents, streamed content doesn’t require a download for access. So, should you hang up your torrent clients in favour of streaming? Well, that depends.
There’s a common misconception that streaming copyrighted content is not illegal because the user didn’t download it. However, that’s not necessarily the case. If a person streams copyrighted TV shows or movies from an unsanctioned source, it may still be illegal, depending on where you live. Thankfully, with the increase in legal streaming services hitting the market, it’s easier than ever to stream content and not risk fines or jail time…for a price, of course. Streaming may also be a faster alternative to torrenting and is often safer, especially through official sources.
However, streaming doesn’t allow for access to every type of file online. In general, only videos and music are available through streaming. This is where torrenting still has its uses. Want to download a book or video game? Torrents have your back. Just check first, so you can be sure your content is not copyright protected and likely to land you in trouble.
What Happens if I Get Caught?
Any user who torrents content they know is illegal should expect that they may be caught. This can happen one of two ways. First, your internet service provider may notice that you’re torrenting copyrighted content. In this instance, all of your internet activity passes through one of your ISP’s servers. If they happen to review that activity, they can see your downloads (in addition to all other unsecured browsing actions). Second, copyright trolls may monitor popular torrent clients. If they catch you downloading illegal content, they can take action.
There are a number of actions officials can take if they notice users downloading protected, illegal content. Those actions include:
Sending Copyright Trolls and Letters After You
Identifying and tracking digital pirates is a lot of work. Small businesses or individuals known as copyright trolls do most of that work. Their job starts with monitoring the downloads that take place on torrent clients. When they find a person illegally downloading content, they track them down through the use of their IP address. Once the pirate has been located, copyright trolls then reach out to the copyright holder of the content. If that owner gives permission, trolls can then take legal action on their behalf.
These people use a variety of tactics to reach out to digital pirates. They may send letters in the mail or via email. In some cases, they even physically show up at the homes of pirates and personally deliver settlement letters. The most important thing torrenters should know is that these letters aren’t legally binding. Instead, trolls use them as a form or intimidation, to bully money out of pirates (who are commonly university students or teenagers).
In most cases, copyright trolls will also bluff by claiming the torrenter owes $100,000 in fines but the copyright owner will settle for $3,000. Although this deal seems sweet, it’s a trick to take your money and avoid court appearances, which are risky for copyright holders who are likely to lose.
If you do happen to receive a settlement letter, you have two choices. In most cases, copyright trolls mail them to large batches of people, most of whom don’t respond. They gamble that enough people will respond to recoup their expenses. If you receive a letter, you can ignore it and hope that enough other people pay. However, if the copyright troll does come after you, hire an attorney.
Issuing ISP Penalties
If your internet service provider catches you torrenting illegal content, they may issue their own penalties. The most common is to slow your bandwidth, which they may do even if your torrents are legal. In general, downloading torrents takes up a lot of bandwidth and costs your ISP more money. ISPs may also threaten to turn your information over to the copyright holders, which can get you in trouble. This is most likely because they would earn money in exchange for your information.
Fortunately, instances of torrenters being prosecuted for digital piracy are becoming increasingly infrequent. This is due in part to some notorious torrenting sites shutting down, and also to the rise in legal streaming services. However, although cases of torrenters facing prosecution peaked in the late 2000s, that doesn’t mean you are immune from penalties if caught.
Should I Use a VPN to Safely Download Torrents?
When you torrent, you should always use a VPN. Heck, when you do anything online, you should use a VPN. VPNs, or virtual private networks, are digital tools that help keep internet users safe. Let’s take a look at how they work.
When a person connects to a VPN service, this service reroutes their internet traffic through a private server owned by the VPN. They also replace your IP address with a temporary alternative. Thanks to these measures, your internet activity becomes hidden from your ISP. It also can’t be traced back to you. In addition, VPNs create encrypted “tunnels” between you and the websites you connect to. Thanks to this measure, all of your activity is hidden from prying eyes such as hackers and your ISP.
Why Use a VPN When Torrenting?
There are a few reasons to use a VPN to safely download torrents. The first is that virtual private networks assign your device a new IP address. In general, copyright trolls are able to track you through the IP address assigned by your internet service provider. This allows them to issue settlement letters or make other demands of you. However, if you use a temporary IP address, copyright trolls won’t be able to track you accurately. Your activity while torrenting will remain anonymous.
In addition, a VPN also encrypts your activity. This means that third-parties, like your ISP, can’t see what you’re doing when you torrent. By blocking your activity from your ISP, they can’t impose penalties for torrenting because they won’t know you’re torrenting. This level of encryption may also have an added benefit: by going around your ISP, you can prevent them from throttling your bandwidth while streaming. This may result in overall faster speeds for torrenting, assuming the VPN you choose is fast and offers high bandwidth for torrenters.
When picking a VPN, look for one that specifies use of torrenting (not all of them allow it). In addition, you need one that actually keeps your activity private. Unfortunately, some VPNs are just as bad as ISPs when it comes to collecting your data. Avoid this by selecting a virtual private network with a strict no-logs policy. With the right virtual private network service, it’s a breeze to safely download torrents.
Other Reasons to Use a VPN
In addition to increasing anonymity while torrenting, there are a few other reasons to use a VPN for all online activity. These are just a few:
- Avoid Tracking: Normally, when you visit websites, they leave “cookies” on your devices. Cookies are little pieces of code that help websites function. For example, if Facebook remembers your username and password so you don’t have to login every time, that is thanks to a cookie. Unfortunately, not all cookies are as helpful. Some of them track you instead. If you search for a product on Amazon then see an ad for it on Facebook, that’s also because of a cookie. In this case, the cookie tracks and collects information from your browsing history and may sell it to third-parties. By using a VPN, all cookies collected during your session will be deleted once the session ends, thus freeing you from tracking.
- Unblock Content: Occasionally, you may run into digital content that is blocked in your region. For example, users can’t access the US version of Netflix from outside the United States. In some cases, networks block content in schools and offices to reduce distractions, and countries may block content due to censorship laws. Although these restrictions may be annoying, many VPNs can help you get around them by reassigning your IP address to an address unaffected by the block.
- Enjoy Cheaper Products: When you visit an website, that site can typically see your IP address. In some cases, businesses may increase their prices for users whose IP address originates from certain locations known for being more affluent. This is especially common for airlines and rental services (like hotels) but also occurs on retail stores. Using a VPN to change your IP address can help you find cheaper rates on a variety of goods.
How to Safely Download Torrents with HotBot VPN
HotBot VPN offers a premium virtual private network service that makes downloading torrents safer. It’s easy to use. Just follow these steps:
- Download and install HotBot VPN to your device. Our service is available on Windows and Mac computers.
- Sign up for a new account, or sign into an existing account.
- Connect to any server of your choice. We have hundreds to choose from.
- Once your connection is established, proceed with torrenting as you normally would. Our connection is working to keep you private.
How Else Can I Safely Download Torrents?
In addition to using a virtual private network, there are many other ways to protect yourself when you torrent. Although you can use each independently, consider using them in addition to a VPN for the best possible security.
Tor, sometimes also called The Onion Router, is a network used to access the internet privately. It functions similarly to a VPN by routing your internet traffic away from your ISP and through its own servers. Browsing activity and digital requests become anonymous through Tor. Your information is also triple-encrypted on Tor so snoops can’t see your data or trace it back to you.
Although Tor is a great solution for torrenters interested in increased privacy, it does have some drawbacks. First, the network is often slow. Because torrents are rarely quick, the extra drag on speed can make using Tor impractical. In addition, the network is volunteer-run by people around the world. Although Tor has a good track-record for privacy, it’s still possible that one of the volunteers could intercept and misuse your data without anyone knowing. Finally, Tor is also known as a tool for hackers and criminals. Connecting to it may catch the attention of your ISP, leading to increased monitoring down the line.
When torrenting, users risk catching the attention of copyright trolls and other officials who can legal action against illegal downloads. Peerblock can help reduce this risk. The software is a desktop firewall. Once downloaded, it provides your computer with a list of blacklisted IP addresses known to track user activities, so you know to avoid them.
Unfortunately Peerblock only updates the list of blocked IP addresses once on download. In order to keep the list up-to-date, it requires users to pay a fee. In addition, blacklisting every IP with tracking capabilities is impossible so, although it minimizes the risk of tracking, Peerblock can’t prevent it altogether.
When looking for content, most users either torrent or stream. However, there’s a third option called Usenet. This service allows users to download content from a few centralized servers, instead of a peer network, for a fee. Usenet is usually faster than torrenting and offers SSL encryption for increased privacy. In addition, one drawback to downloading torrents is that the process also requires you to upload content. That’s not a requirement with Usenet, which makes you less of a legal target.
There are many Usenet providers on the market that you can choose from.
Because torrenting comes with risks, all users should aim to increase their safety as much as possible. There are a few other tips you should know in order to do just that.
Avoid New Content
We don’t condone pirating content. However, if you make the decision to partake in this activity, do so wisely. One way to stay safe is by avoiding new content. Movies and TV shows released within the past 60 days are more likely to have people watching for downloads. If you download something new, you also run a higher risk of being pursued by the law.
Be Careful with Popcorn Time
Many users of Popcorn Time believe that it’s an alternative to torrents. The app allows users to stream directly in their video player. However, their streams come directly from torrents, making many of them illegal. Even if the service is torrenting on your behalf, you can still get in trouble for using it. If you use Popcorn Time, apply the same safety tips as you would to regular torrents.
Select Content Wisely
When you torrent, you often have a choice of sources. This is especially of true of new and popular material. However, before initiating a download, vet your source carefully. If you’re using the most popular, it’s more likely to be monitor by copyright trolls and other officials. However, the least popular options may contain viruses or other malware that can infect your device. A middling-popularity download is probably the best choice.
Scan Your Sources
Many popular torrenting sites include a comments section. In this area, other users may proclaim a download safe or warn others of viruses. However, even if comments claim that a torrent is safe, run your own virus scan on it first. If possible, use multiple antivirus softwares to do so.
Our Reviews of Popular Torrent Clients
There are a lot of different torrent clients on the market. Check out our reviews of some of the most popular to choose the one that’s right for you:
Whether you’re a frequent torrenter or only dabble in the activity, always stay up-to-date on the latest news and vulnerabilities in order to safely download torrents.