How to Tell Whether You Are Downloading Illegally

You didn’t do anything wrong. You were downloading a file for work. You didn’t think you were doing anything illegal, but there’s a sense of uneasiness settling in. It’s like you’re unsure about your downloads. Are you legally safe? Can the law come after you and your rights? What about the other people involved; can they sue you for doing something you thought was legal?

Downloading anything is tough, especially on file-sharing sites. BitTorrent downloading is great for users who need to download multiple files. BitTorrent networks can download files at 1.5 megabytes per second faster than other networks. They’re also free for anyone to share and download files from all over the world.

There are some problems with downloading from BitTorrents. Even if you’re trying to stay on the right side of the law, you can still get caught in illegal activity. Most users aren’t trying to download illegally, and they’re caught out of ignorance. Others are deliberately downloading illegal content off Torrent networks.

For those trying to stay legal, we’re here to help you. We don’t want you to get on the wrong side of the law.

Common reasons to download illegally

Consumers love paying nothing for products, services, and information. Free products are freeing for everyone involved – except for those who want to get paid for their work. Here are the main reasons why people download illegally:

  1. Free Music
    Remember Napster? They were one of the first companies to start peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing services for MP3 downloads of popular songs. Over time, some of these songs were downloaded for free off other P2P file-sharing networks. Instead of paying for an entire album, or one song off iTunes, people could download those songs using P2P networks.
  2. Free Movies
    Once music files were downloaded, the attention turned to the movie industry. These files are much larger than music files, but users can still download movies on a torrent network in a matter of minutes. Why pay $10 for a movie ticket when you can download the movie for free on your laptop?
  3. Free TV Shows
    Again, why pay a few dollars a month for Netflix when you can download every episode of Friends for free?
  4. Other Media
    Besides the big three of music, movies, and TV shows, there are other media users can download illegally. Anything that is digitized can be downloaded illegally. Books, blogs with paid subscriptions, speeches, video games, and other creative works have copyright laws. And these laws aren’t always easy to follow.

copyright laws

Anything done creatively is protected by copyright laws, which protect artists and media companies. They created the work and want compensation for their hard work without people stealing it for free. Once the content is published, the owner of the content owns the copyright to that content for a certain amount of years. Most are for the life of the creator plus an additional 50 years. But each copyright law is different, depending on where you reside.

Another license that needs to be addressed is the creative commons license. These licenses allow anyone to share, use, and build upon the creator’s own work – and the creator permitted them to do so. There are some instances where the line between individuals and publishing companies giving the public permission to use their work is blurry.

All these laws protect the owners of the content. These laws make sure each artist, actor, and person receiving royalty checks keep getting paid for their work. From their point of view, pay is low for creative works of art. It takes thousands of dollars to create a beautiful song or movie scene, and the owners want compensation for their hard work. When each song or TV show is downloaded for free, in the eyes of the law, that’s considered stealing.

What makes Downloading illegal?

The content makes the act illegal. If you’re downloading a PDF file of your company’s guidelines, you’re fine. Your boss gave you permission to download that document, anyway. Also, you don’t want to miss out on certain rules of your own business, let alone for torrent networks.

But, if you’re downloading the new Taylor Swift song for free, you’re doing it wrong. Because you didn’t pay for the content, and you don’t own or create the content, you’re going to get in trouble eventually. You also don’t want to mess with T-Swift. She’ll come after you.

In any case, if you’re still uncertain as to what is legal and what’s illegal, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I Own and/or Create the Content?
    If you don’t own the content or create the content yourself, you have to pay for the content, which means you have to download that content on a different network other than torrents.
  2. Did I Get Permission to Download the Content?
    This is the biggest reason why people download illegally. The owners and creators of music, movies, and TV shows don’t give people permission to download their creations for free. They will gladly let users download their content – as long as they pay for the content.One way to get permission is to ask. Sometimes, if you ask an artist if you can download their content for free, they won’t let you. But there have been a few instances where artists have let users download their content for free – and all they did was ask. You’d be amazed at what you can do if you just asked for permission.

Source: Is Torrenting illegal?

What to do if caught downloading illegally

Let’s say, for whatever reason, you’re downloading multiple songs via the BitTorrent network. At first, your Internet Service Provider, or ISP, won’t notice that you’re downloading illegal songs; they’re noticing that you’re using a BitTorrent network. Your ISP will shut down your downloads if they see you sucking up the bandwidth from other users on their network.

Not only does your ISP know, but there’s a new technology that can tell if you’re downloading pirated media or not. A couple of years ago, all ISP’s and copyright holders signed the Copyright Alert System. This system alerts illegal users of their activity through email. Before the signing of the Copyright Alert System, media companies would group a lot of illegal downloaders together and sue them all at once in civil courts. Over time, this was costly to the media companies, so they decided to sign this agreement for everyone’s sake.

The system emails the user, telling them they’re downloading illegal content over torrent networks. The first couple of emails are sent as warnings. You won’t receive these emails if you stop downloading illegal content. Over time, if you keep doing illegal activity, you will have to fill out a form stating that you received the third and fourth emails.

The policy is six strikes, and you’re out.” After the sixth strike, you could get sued by media companies because they had warned you multiple times to stop downloading content for free.

How to safely download on torrent networks?

Instead of downloading music, movies, or TV shows, here are some alternatives for you to try:

  1. For Music, Try Spotify, Apple Music, or other Music Streaming App
    Signing up for one of these apps is free. Even though there are advertisements every half-hour, all the music is free to listen to and, most importantly, is legal to download. If you don’t want advertisements, you can pay a subscription to listen to all the music you want, wherever you are.
  2. For Movies and TV Shows, Pay for Netflix
    Rather than trying to find free content, take the high road and pay for Netflix. Better yet, ask your friends or family if you can use their account. Like asking artists for permission, ask your friends for permission to use their HBO Go or Netflix account. What’s the worst that could happen?

Of course, no matter how hard we try, some of you will download illegal content. We’ve told you the risks of downloading illegal content. Just be wary of your activity, and you should be fine. Read more to understand the risks of torrenting.

All in all, here are the best ways to download legal content on torrent networks:

  1. Do Your Research
    Take your time and research all the torrent networks for legal content. There are some networks that could flag your content as illegal, even though you’ve been legally downloading content for many months. Think of this as guilty by association. Some illegal content that’s on the torrent network could indirectly show your IP address on accident. Also, there could be illegal content on those networks you’re not aware of at the moment you downloaded the content.
  2. Go Old-School
    All you have to do is ask. Then, do what the owners of the content tell you to do. If they don’t let you download their content, then don’t do it. Again, take the time to ask politely.
  3. Stay Anonymous
    We say this to protect your identity and secure information. This isn’t a way for users to download illegal content, and no one knows about the activity. Of course, there are some who will want to stay anonymous so they can download the entire season of Seinfeld illegally. Here are some ways to stay anonymous when downloading on a torrent network:

    • Tor – To protect yourself from the Internet surveillance system known as “traffic analysis,” use the Tor network to stay anonymous. The Tor network uses a series of virtual tunnels that connect to their network, which allows people to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. According to the official Tor website, you can share information over public networks without compromising your privacy. Learn everything there is to know about staying safe with Tor in is Tor Browser Safe. 
    • VPN – A virtual private network, or VPN, hides your IP address from everyone else who is downloading on the torrent network. Like the Tor browser, VPNs also run all your data through their virtual tunnel. Click here for some recommended VPN vendors.
    • Proxy Server – Think of proxy servers as the middlemen between your computer and the Internet. They replace your IP address with your IP address. To really mess with trackers and hackers, you can act like you’re browsing in Greenland when you’re actually in Iceland.
    • Virtual Machines – A virtual machine, or VM, is a second computer that imitates your real computer. You download a file on this virtual machine, then delete the file (and the virtual system) once you’ve seen or edited the file.
    • Seedbox – A seedbox is a dedicated server for you to upload and download content on a BitTorrent network. Think of this as a VPN that’s dedicated to anonymous VPN downloading. You can use their public IP address to guard your personal IP address when you’re downloading on a torrent network. All torrent files are stored in a remote location, and you can transfer these files to your personal computer anonymously.

Educational Purpose Disclaimer: This material has been developed strictly for educational purposes. We at RapidSeedbox do not endorse or promote any activity involving copyright infringement or illegal activities related to torrenting. Always abide by the laws and regulations concerning copyrights in your jurisdiction.

About Diego Asturias

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Diego Asturias is a tech journalist who translates complex tech jargon into engaging content. He has a degree in Internetworking Tech from Washington DC, US, and tech certifications from Cisco, McAfee, and Wireshark. He has hands-on experience working in Latin America, South Korea, and West Africa. He has been featured in SiliconANGLE Media, Cloudbric, Pcwdld, Hackernoon, ITT Systems, SecurityGladiators, Rapidseedbox, and more.