What Happens If You Get Caught Torrenting?
Do you often torrent software, movies, games, and other copyrighted content? If so, you’re likely breaking the law in your country and can get in serious trouble if you get caught. Digital piracy is still prevalent worldwide, but there are many examples of how just serious the consequences of illegal torrenting can be.
So, what happens if you get caught downloading copyrighted material? Moreover, how can you get caught torrenting in the first place? Let’s discuss this topic of illegal downloading and how you can protect yourself from getting caught when torrenting copyrighted material.
Where is Torrenting Illegal?
The torrenting process itself is completely legal everywhere in the world. This is because it’s simply peer-to-peer file sharing, so torrent files are just being exchanged between legitimate users. However, when torrenting becomes illegal is when copyrighted material comes into play.
To expand on this, if you’re downloading copyright-free content that’s in the public domain and using it for personal use, you are not breaking the law. The most common example of this is open-source software. But, if you’re downloading copyrighted material for personal use or for profit, you are engaging in online privacy.
So, before we get into the intricacies of illegal downloading and how you can get caught, let’s go over the basics first. In most western countries, torrenting copyrighted material is classified as copyright infringement.
More precisely, copyright laws in the US, the UK, France, Germany, New Zealand, and many other countries make it absolutely illegal to download copyrighted files. For example, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the NET Act are the two primary laws in the US legal system that pertain to torrenting. They cover both torrent sites and individual users who download torrents.
Additionally, copyright law in the US states that you will face legal action if you get caught torrenting and could be subject to a massive $250,000 fine and up to five years in jail. Most other countries don’t have such stringent fines, but the consequences typically include both a fine and prison time.
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How Do You Get Caught Torrenting?
When you go online, your Internet Service Provider can see all your internet traffic. So, whenever you Google something online, stream, download files, or access any other sites, they will know. In some countries, ISPs must retain this collected data for a certain period before they can delete it.
What’s even more worrying is that they can share files they have on you with third parties, including copyright owners and even copyright trolls. For example, copyright holders like Hollywood production companies can use this information to sue you for damages if you download a movie or show they made.
Most users that aren’t tech-savvy think that accessing torrenting sites in Incognito Mode or deleting their history keeps them safe when torrenting. The truth is that the ISP can still see everything. It’s only a matter of whether or not they and the copyright holder want to act on this information.
What Happens if You Get Caught Torrenting?
So, understanding how you can get caught torrenting, what happens if you get caught? To prepare you for the worst-case scenario, we’ll use examples of countries that have the most stringent copyright laws.
So, the first step your ISP might take if it notices that you’re torrenting too much is to throttle your Internet speed. For this to happen, you don’t even need to be downloading copyrighted content. They might just do it to prevent you from using too much bandwidth.
Now, if you engage in illegal downloading, you will likely just receive a warning letter the first time you get caught torrenting. That said, if you live in a country that takes these offenses seriously, like the US, you might also have your Internet connection terminated at this point.
If you continue torrenting copyrighted material after receiving a warning, you’re setting yourself up for a more severe punishment. This is where the fines and jail time come into play. In some cases, depending on how much copyrighted material you’ve downloaded, the authorities might even confiscate your device.
With all of this said, if you’ve received legal action against you, make sure to act on it immediately. Contact a reputable organization, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to get legal help.
Can a VPN Protect You When Downloading Torrents?
Yes, a VPN can keep you private when downloading torrents. VPNs work by switching real IP addresses with their own server IP addresses and anonymizing the connection. To add to this, the VPN also encrypts the connection and prevents anyone from seeing that you’re accessing torrent sites or downloading anything.
Moreover, if you use a capable VPN with added security features, you can also protect your device from getting infected by malicious files. Reputable VPNs often include tools that can deal with malware and adware and ensure your device doesn’t become infected once you’ve completed downloading and open the same file you’ve just saved.
Can Your Internet Service Provider Catch You Torrenting With a VPN?
Using a VPN service to keep your torrenting activities private is the best way to torrent safely and without worries. However, a VPN won’t always keep you safe, as you can still get caught torrenting illegal content in some situations. Let’s go over the most common situations in which you can get caught torrenting even when you use a VPN:
Ip address leaks are the number one reason how you can get caught torrenting even when you’re using a VPN. This happens when a VPN doesn’t protect your IP address adequately. Even if the VPN leaks the smallest amount of information, this could expose your connection and reveal your real IP address.
With this in mind, the VPN you pick must be capable of keeping your IP address hidden at all times. Use a service that has IP/DNS leak protection. Equally important, the VPN should have a kill switch, among other security features. A VPN’s kill switch serves to cut off Internet traffic in case of any VPN connection drops.
Lack of Torrenting Support
Many casual VPN users aren’t aware that not all VPN services actually support torrenting. Knowing this, it’s crucial to pick a service that fully supports torrenting and offers you all of the tools you need to secure your Internet connection and use the torrent client safely.
Most notably, there should be enough VPN server options in torrenting-friendly locations to ensure fast and stable connections. Moreover, the service should ideally support port-forwarding.
Considering all of these aspects, this is why it’s crucial to avoid free VPNs. While these might seem good if you don’t have extra money to spend, they are riddled with flaws. Free VPNs generally have weak encryption, log your data traffic, and offer slow connection speeds.
A general rule of thumb is to avoid VPNs that record logs. The reason for this is very simple but significant. If a VPN keeps logs, it can share the data it collects from you with Internet Service Providers and copyright trolls.
In other words, this defeats the purpose of using a VPN. Even if your Internet provider doesn’t know what you’re doing when connected to the VPN, if the service shares your activities with them, they will find out everything.
How to Torrent Files Safely – Summing it Up
Copyright trolls and copyright owners are constantly looking for even the smallest signs of online piracy. This is particularly the case with popular software clients. For instance, if you use a uTorrent or BitTorrent network, you’re more likely to face a legal threat. Moreover, if you use a peer-to-peer network to torrent copyrighted material in a country like the US, or most countries in Europe, the chances of getting caught increase exponentially.
So, what can you do if you want to keep using torrent clients? The most effective safety method is to always use a VPN while torrenting. Doing so will minimize the chances of getting caught.
Still, remember that there’s always a possibility of getting caught even when you use a VPN. So, we want to stress that we don’t endorse Internet piracy and recommend torrenting legal content only.
How does torrenting work?
Torrenting is a file-sharing activity in which torrent users download or upload files to torrent sites. In other words, how torrenting works is through downloading the files from the users’ devices instead of a central server. You use a download link through a peer-to-peer sharing protocol to download the torrent file.
Can I torrent without a VPN?
Yes, you can torrent files without a VPN. That said, this isn’t wise, especially when torrenting copyrighted material. Using a capable VPN keeps you private from prying eyes while also keeping you safe from any malicious content you might accidentally download from torrent sites.
What are copyright trolls?
Copyright trolls are individuals and businesses that watch for illegal torrenting activities and claim legal action against users engaging in these activities. They often work on behalf of copyright holders and don’t shy away from using scare tactics to make users pay settlement fines.
Cybersecurity and VPN researcher