Is Torrenting Safe? Is it Illegal?

Is it safe & legal to use torrents? What are the risks? You asked, we answered. 

Photo of speed boat with pirate flag

Find out whether torrenting is safe and whether it is illegal. 

Torrenting can feel safe and even anonymous, but this is deceptive. 

Downloading and sharing torrents may be super-easy, but that does not mean torrenting is super safe or even legal.

This post outlines the risks & dangers to think about when trying to answer the question, is torrenting safe or not.

But let’s first address whether torrenting is illegal.


Is Torrenting Illegal?

Torrenting technology is itself legal, but things are a little more complicated than that.

The answer to this question will depend on what you download & share using torrenting technology.

Let's just come right out and say it.

A lot of torrents are pirated.

Some or even most of the files being downloaded and shared via torrenting are pirated copyright material. Torrenting pirated copyright material, even by accident, can get you in trouble.

While it may not always be easy to tell which torrents are associated with pirated copyright materials, you usually know them when you see them. As with email spam and scams, the more you use torrents, the better you will be at spotting these torrents.

So, yes torrenting is legal.

In fact, torrents do not have to be synonymous with copyright infringement. Torrenting technology can be used perfectly legally.

Food for thought: Some would say the situation described above is a pity and that piracy undercuts the efforts of those producing the content we all enjoy. And that you should respect copyright and, in doing so, support content producers. They would argue that if we all supported pirated materials – by not paying for them or otherwise failing to honor the copyright owner’s terms – the materials could stop being produced.


Torrenting Copyright Material: What Can Happen?

Torrenting pirated copyright material, whether intentionally or accidentally (hey, it can happen to anyone), can have consequences.

These consequences can include:

  • your ISP issuing you a warning
  • your ISP cutting off your service (usually after multiple warnings, for example “three strikes” in some countries)
  • lawyers sending letters on behalf of copyright owners demanding monetary compensation from you (sometimes referred to as “copyright trolls”).
  • industry associations & their lawyers dragging you into lawsuits (although this is rare)

While it is true that following the techniques below for safe torrenting will maximize your safety and anonymity while torrenting - making it difficult to almost impossible for anyone to uncover your torrenting - it is safest to steer clear of the pirated stuff.


Torrenting Risks & Dangers

OK, so now that we know torrenting is legal itself and depends on what you download, let’s look at the risks & dangers of downloading torrents to determine whether torrenting is safe or not. 
 

Torrent Monitoring by Snoops

If you do not take steps to hide your IP address, your torrent downloading activities can be easily found out.

Like all Internet communications, downloading and sharing torrents inevitably involves the interaction of IP addresses.

In order for everyone in a torrent swarm to connect to one another to share the torrent-related files, this involves everyone’s devices exchanging IP addresses. This means your IP address is stamped on all your torrent downloading and sharing activities.

If a snoop wants to determine your IP address, they only need to share a torrent to join its swarm and then monitor those activities. There are aggressive firms monitoring torrent activities and, as mentioned above, threatening users with payment demands or legal action.


Use a VPN to Hide Your IP Address

However, if you use a VPN for torrenting the peers you connect with in the swarm will only be able to “see” data transfers to and from a masked IP address assigned by your VPN service rather than your true IP address.

Because the torrent VPN acts as an intermediary standing between you and the prying eyes of any torrent snoops, you eliminate the torrent monitoring danger.

Also keep in mind that using a VPN while torrenting is not an admission of “guilt” or any wrongdoing.  

Wanting to keep your torrent downloading habits private does not automatically mean that you are doing something illegal or wrong. Not at all.

You may have a number of reasons for wanting to keep your torrent activities anonymous or private.

For example, some people may be downloading 100% legal torrents about subjects that they would rather keep private, such as relating to health or medical conditions, financial matters, erotica or other personal information that is nobody else’s business.

Yet other people use a VPN all the time for everything they do as they want to keep all their online activities private purely out of principle, for example, in reaction to increasing intrusion and overreach on the part of businesses or governments (Big Brother type surveillance considerations).

Using a VPN while torrenting will also address other torrenting safety concerns too.

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Speed Throttling by your ISP

In addition to potential illegality and the monitoring risks above, many Internet service providers (ISPs) frown on their customers using torrents. That’s because of the potentially large amounts of data involved.

If your ISP detects that you are downloading torrents, they may throttle (slow down) your connection, also sometimes called traffic shaping.

Of course, the more your ISP detects you are torrenting, the more interested they may become in what you are downloading. This gets you back to the monitoring risk above and so the viscous circle goes.

In addition to changing your IP address, a VPN also encrypts your traffic. This hides your torrenting inside a tunnel of military-grade encryption that your ISP cannot see inside of. 
 

Malware-Infected and Fake Torrents

While some torrents infringe copyright, others are infected with malware, so caution is warranted.

Unfortunately, torrents are a fertile ground for the circulation of viruses, worms, Trojans, rootkits and other malware that may do damage to your devices.

Some mischief-makers will circulate malware under the guise of popular torrents or torrents with pleasing filenames in an effort to trick you into downloading and opening them.

You should always use an anti-malware app to rigorously scan the contents of torrent payloads before handling them. This is true even if you use a VPN.

In addition, some torrents are fake.

When you download a fake torrent, the payload files do not turn out to be what you expected.

Fake torrents can occur by accident (when the torrent was actually created) but usually fake torrents are created intentionally as a form of mischief.

While fake torrents do not pose the same kind of danger as the malware-infected ones, they result in you wasting time, effort and bandwidth.


Wrap-Up

You should now have your answers:

  • Is torrenting safe?
  • Is torrenting illegal?
    • No, torrenting technology is perfectly legal. But it depends what you use the technology to download with it. Downloading pirated copyright material carries significant risks. Again, a good VPN will protect you, even if you accidentally download something you shouldn’t.
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