Once upon a time, most BitTorrent users could download whatever they liked with relative impunity.
Movies, TV shows, music, games and software could mostly be obtained trouble-free but more than 15 years on, the game has changed significantly. Copyright holders and their anti-piracy partners are highly-organized and Internet service providers in some countries, notably the United States, are keener than ever to forward complaints to lessen their own liability.
Yet despite the thousands of articles that have been written on the topic of DMCA notices, ISP account suspensions, and even lawsuits, BitTorrent users still hit the web every week to complain that even in the face of all of their efforts, they are now facing varying degrees of legal trouble. Here are the top reasons, misconceptions, and urban myths that lead to people getting into a fix.
Download and Sharing Copyrighted Content
Sherlock Holmes shouldn’t be needed to highlight why people who download and share pirated content can get themselves into legal hot water. In most countries that care to enforce copyright, the duplication and distribution of pirated content is illegal and punishable under law, whether in civil or in extreme cases, criminal procedures.
Sharing any kind of copyrighted content without the protection offered by a VPN or similar tool, for example, always carries an element of risk. For instance, people think that by downloading older content, such as decades-old films or less popular material, they can completely avoid being tracked by copyright holders. That is not the case.
In summary, the only cast-iron guaranteed way to avoid being sent an infringement notice or potentially being subjected to a lawsuit is not to share any copyrighted content at all. Some people may argue that their country doesn’t care about such matters and to those there is a simple response: Maybe today they don’t.
Can People Avoid Getting a Notice By Not Seeding or Not Uploading?
In a word – NO. Most copyright holders and anti-piracy companies couldn’t care less whether BitTorrent users downloaded or uploaded part of a film or all of it. There might be implications in a copyright lawsuit if someone was observed seeding a torrent for a very long time but simply being part of a sharing swarm is enough for anyone to get a copyright infringement notice and/or a ‘strike’ from their ISP in the United States.
Equally, there is a persistent belief among some that people who set their upload speed to zero won’t get a copyright notice or even find themselves on the end of a lawsuit. That is completely false. While some are more thorough, there are plenty of companies that will detect a BitTorrent user’s IP address in a swarm (this information is public) and then accuse them of copyright infringement just for being there.
This also applies to people who may have gotten halfway through downloading a movie, for example, and then backed out. Many notice senders and copyright trolls do not care how much people downloaded or whether they backed out or not.
Some people also claim that since they didn’t upload anything the copyright holder has a weaker case but these are not matters that the ISP notification system cares about. Those targeted may also believe that they could stand up in court and argue that they didn’t distribute anything but, at this point, the defense process will have already cost plenty of time and money.
In short and broadly speaking, if a case ends up in court any ordinary Joe who values their time and money has already lost. People do win cases but instances are few and far between.
But I Subscribe to a VPN and Still Got a Notice. Why?
Using a VPN is all well and good when the user understands how they work, sets them up properly, and remains cautious about their limitations. However, in some cases all of these conditions are overlooked, which can again lead to ISP notifications and even lawsuits.
All good VPN providers will supply accurate instructions on how to get their tools up and running but one of the most common blunders is to misunderstand the capabilities of the main products they supply. While those who obtain and correctly set up a good whole-system VPN should have few problems, there are plenty of cases reported online where people wrongly believed that using a browser-based VPN would protect their BitTorrent transfers.
While it is common for some BitTorrent clients/systems to have web interfaces these days, the transfers themselves do not take place through a browser. They use an entirely different process that must be protected in its own right or globally on the host system. In short, no browser plug-in will anonymize downloading and/or uploading with BitTorrent.
I had my VPN Set Up Correctly System-Wide and Still Got a Notice. Why?
Like anything on a computer, VPNs aren’t completely fool-proof unless additional precautions are taken. For any number of reasons a VPN connection can temporarily fail, including but not limited to the underlying Internet connection itself dropping and causing a reconnection.
For this reason, some VPN providers provide a ‘kill switch’ function, which prevents Internet connectivity when a problem occurs. If this is not enabled, users can find their real IP addresses exposed to a BitTorrent swarm and people trying to monitor them.
Another basic failure is more simply prevented. Some people configure their torrent client to start when their machine boots up. If for any reason their VPN is not activated before this happens, their IP addresses will be exposed in public. While there are a number of possible workarounds, a simple option is to disable the torrent client’s autostart feature and only launch the software once a VPN connection is established.
Finally, not all VPN providers are no-log services so by choosing the wrong supplier, anonymity can be undermined.
I Enabled the Encryption Option in My Torrent Client and Still Got a Notice, Why?
Most major torrent clients do indeed have an encryption option hidden away in their settings and there’s no shortage of reports online from people who have still received a notice after enabling this option.
The reason is that this encryption is only aimed at hindering ISPs from identifying BitTorrent traffic so they have more difficulty slowing it down. Client encryption offers no protection whatsoever on the anonymity front and those using it will still have their IP addresses exposed.
There are many people out there who claim to have used torrents for years, downloaded and shared terabytes of data, yet have never received a complaint or been on the sharp end of a lawsuit. Just as many people drive around above the speed limit most days of their lives without getting a ticket, that is entirely possible.
However, in common with speeding drivers, those who take extra risks or don’t exercise caution are putting themselves in danger of falling foul of those who would like to punish them. As a result, always staying below the limit or never sharing any copyrighted material online are the only guaranteed solutions for not getting a fine or, if people are lucky, getting off with a warning.
Everything else requires work, additional tools, and/or the acceptance of risk and the attached consequences.