Is Torrenting Illegal?

In a nutshell? Torrenting is not illegal. 

Do you want to know why torrenting is not illegal? Let’s keep reading.

BitTorrent (the protocol itself) is not illegal and so does all its underlying technology (including clients, trackers, indexers, etc). But the action, what you do with the torrenting technology, and what type of material you transfer, share, or download, crosses the line between legal and illegal.

is torrenting illegal?

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An Example.

Let’s go through an example, shall we? 

Is fire illegal? 

No, right? Fire is and has been one of the handiest tools for humankind. You can light up a room when it is dark, heat a house during winter, or cook a steak for dinner. However, fire can also create havoc. You can burn a house or an entire forest with fire (intentionally or unintentionally), and the cops will likely visit you! 

It is a similar case with torrenting technology.

Torrenting technology, including BitTorrent, trackers, torrent websites (indexers), torrent metafiles, clients, etc., are not illegal. What’s illegal is how you use them and what type of content you use them with. If you are sharing your own production media to the world, distributing your big data, or pushing updates to your servers scattered across the globe. Then torrenting is perfectly legal— and it is even encouraged.

But, if you are using torrenting technology for sharing or distributing copyright content (that is not yours) with the rest of the world, then most certainly, you are using torrenting for illegal purposes. 

So, the action and not the tool throw torrenting outside or inside the legal frame.

The Reason Why Pirates use Torrents. 

Torrenting technology is one of the best ways to transfer and share large files across the Internet. It is a distributed and decentralized Internet-sharing system. It uses a Peer-2-Peer (P2P) protocol, most likely BitTorrent, a torrent file, a torrent tracker (public or private), and a torrent client (such as uTorrent, BitTorrent, Vuze, qBittorrent, etc.) 

Distributing large files such as media or software with torrent technology to many users simultaneously is free and straightforward. Anyone uploading and downloading content doesn’t need many resources, including bandwidth and storage. 

Unfortunately, pirates have adopted torrenting technology to distribute illegal, copyrighted content. This is why the movie, music, and software industry are not happy with BitTorrent— As their copyrighted content is being distributed across the world without much control. 

Examples of legal, illegal, and the gray area of using torrenting. 

Below are a few examples of torrenting technology used within and without the legal frame.

Examples of how torrenting has been, it is, and can be adopted legally.

  • Social media companies like Facebook and Twitter have used torrenting internally to deploy and distribute updates. 
  • The gaming industry, like Blizzard Entertainment and Wargaming, have used (and still do) to distribute game updates. 
  • Major Operating Systems like Linux Ubuntu use BitTorrent as an alternative download method. 
  • Universities like FSU (Florida State University) or universities with BOINC-distributed computing projects use BitTorrent. 
  • If you are a content creator, perhaps producing music or documentaries, and would like to release it for free to the world, then BitTorrent is the best tool to do it. You don’t need to host files or a server or pay a lot for bandwidth. The decentralized network will do for you at no cost.

Examples of how torrenting has been (and is) adopted illegally. 

  • The pirate community is happy with Bittorrent because it is the easiest way (and safest for them) to distribute infringing copyright work. Pirates using torrenting for illegal purposes can be persecuted by law.
  • If you are not a pirate (I hope you are not!) but are still participating in the sharing of copyright material, you could also be persecuted by the law. 

Examples of where torrenting is still a gray legal area. 

BitTorrent trackers fall under a gray legal area. For example, high-profile public tracker indexers like The Pirate Bay or LimeTorrents had a rough road. Although they are still up and running, they have been shut down, time and time again. Tracker indexers like these only publish torrent metafiles and provide the indexing (they do not host copyright material).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

Countries where torrenting is illegal?

If you use torrents to download copyright content, torrenting is illegal wherever you are. Some countries have simply stricter regulations and advanced monitoring technology. Examples are the five eye countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. So is torrenting illegal in the US? or in the UK? Again, it depends on how you use it. Five Eyes countries have the legal right to request traffic logs from ISPs, push them to send DMCA letters, and even knock on your door in an attempt to search for copyright material in your HDD. 

Is torrenting illegal in India?

Torrenting is illegal everywhere including in India, as long as you download copyright material. But countries have different jurisdictions. India is not within the Five Eyes or Nine Eyes countries, so they are not interested in requesting logs from ISPs, and in the same case, are not obliged to collaborate with DMCA. 

Why is illegal torrenting still allowed?

Torrenting uses P2P decentralized technology; there are no central servers to shut down, only users scattered worldwide. Any user with an internet connection and a BitTorrent client can participate in a torrent swarm and share content. Torrent index sites and trackers (which rely on a server) can be shut down to stop Illegal torrenting partially. But the story goes like this: one piratebay site shuts down, and three more mirror sites pop up!. Although Illegal torrenting is not allowed, it is simply unstoppable.

Is torrenting movies illegal?

If you have the rights to the film or produced it, and would like to share it with the world for free, then using torrent to distribute your movie is not illegal and can even be encouraged as the best way to do it. However, torrenting copyright movies such as Hollywood or Bollywood is unlawful. 

Is torrenting illegal if you own the game?

If you are a game developer (such as Blizzard) and would like to distribute it (or push updates) using torrenting, then torrenting is perfectly legal. Now, If you bought a copy of the game, it doesn’t mean you have the rights to it. It is illegal to torrent a game you don’t own. 

Final Verdict. 

Is torrenting illegal? No, it is not illegal. 

The BitTorrent protocol is legal and so does all of its underlying technology. But legal problems may appear when you start using the protocol for distributing copyright infringing material. BitTorrent and other torrenting technology have had a controversial road since it is used to download otherwise paid content. 

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.