Downloading Torrents: Are You Breaking the Law?

David Lindsey, Attorney at Law
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It’s been several years since stories about Napster and illegally downloading music online were all over the news, but issues with piracy are still putting people at risk every day.

Though most people are aware that piracy of copyrighted materials is illegal, many do not fully understand what the practice includes. Things they believe are perfectly legal could land them in legal hot water, so it’s important to clarify what is legal and illegal when it comes to downloading data from online sources. One area that creates a great deal of confusion is torrents.

What are Torrent Files?

Torrents files are part of a peer-to-peer sharing network. Many people believe they are safe downloading torrents because doing so is considered private. It can be possible to download a torrent anonymously because it works by allowing only one computer to download a bit of information from a file from multiple host computers at the same time. It is a way to transmit a lot of data using various sources and in the past, it kept the transfer of files relatively confidential.

For more details on how Torrent file sharing works, check out this article.

This has changed and downloading a torrent file isn’t as safe as it once was. The government and other organizations dedicated to protecting copyrights and taking legal action against those who violate them find torrent files, evaluate the networks of the computers transmitting the file, and record the IP addresses associated with those computers.

Torrents work by making the people downloading the files also the providers of the files during the download. So, for instance, while you are downloading a movie from a torrent file, others can download that same movie file from your computer during that time. By participating in torrent downloading, you are part of a share program. This means if anyone is attempting to collect IP addresses, yours will eventually be recorded.

You have the option of using extra-secure invitation-only sites to avoid from getting caught, which makes the likelihood of your IP address less – but even these sites are not completely without risk.

The bottom line is if you are downloading copyrighted materials and you are not paying the copyright holder for that material, you are breaking the law. Keep in mind paying a service fee or membership fee does not necessarily make it a legal download. Paying the torrent service and paying the copyright holder are two different things.

Have a Spouse, Child, or Friend Using Your Computer for Torrent Downloading?

It’s also important to realize if someone else is using your computer for torrent sharing without your knowledge, you can still be held accountable. Parents need to be aware of whether or not their children are downloading data through torrent sharing programs, and speak to their children about data laws, if necessary.

Laws regarding file sharing are confusing and practices concerning the protection of copyright when it comes to online materials change on a regular basis. What you think might be legal – and what might have been legal at one time – could now result in a great deal of trouble.

If you are accused of breaking copyright laws or you are concerned your use of torrent files has gotten you into trouble, David Lindsey can help. David understands internet laws and can help you if you are accused of a crime. For more information or to discuss your situation, contact David to schedule a consultation.

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