You are probably cautious to avoid downloading malware-infected files while torrenting. But have you taken precautions to avoid legal consequences as well?
Read on to find out if you can go to jail for torrenting.
What is Torrenting?
Torrenting is the process of downloading content from many computers on a peer-to-peer network. The decentralized nature of this system makes it difficult for authorities to shut down the sharing of the copyrighted material.
Torrent software allows users to download small pieces of files stored in every computer on the P2P network. Examples of such software are BitTorrent and uTorrent.
The torrenting process consists of leeching and seeding. When you download a file without uploading it, you are a leecher. Conversely, if you download a file and upload it as well, you are a seeder. Now, other people can download that file from you since your computer is hosting a small piece of it. Note that torrent software could automatically allow you to upload a file as you download it.
Can You Go to Jail for Torrenting?
Yes, but it depends on several factors. These factors include their determination to prosecute, the regulations of the country, and the extent of your offence. Therefore, the chances of being taken to court and eventually going to jail are pretty slim.
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Nonetheless, you could get a warning letter, or your ISP could slow down your internet for downloading unsanctioned and copyrighted content. For instance, some users on this Reddit thread reveal that they have received warning letters from their ISPs for torrenting.
ISPs can also punish the torrenting of illegal material by threatening to reveal your details to the authorities. If your ISP is collecting kickbacks from content owners, expect them to take a more active role in your punishment. Moreover, this could happen if your torrenting activity is costing them money. Torrenting uses a lot of bandwidth, which costs ISPs money.
Torrenting is not illegal. As long as you avoid downloading unsanctioned copyrighted material, you will remain safe from legal consequences. Still, it is not always clear which content is legal or illegal to torrent. For this reason, several countries have made torrenting in any form, illegal.
To avoid getting into trouble in the first place, you should stop torrenting entirely. However, if you do not want to stop, protect yourself by using a VPN.
How Will You Get Caught?
You might think that authorities cannot catch you for torrenting since only your IP address connects you to your online activity. Well, you are mistaken.
The US government, for example, works with ISPs to catch torrenters that are downloading unsanctioned copyrighted material. So, if you are not using a VPN while torrenting, your ISP will know. Because your ISP has your home address, name, email address, authorities could come knocking on your door.
Torrent client software stores the IP addresses of seeders and leechers. Therefore, an ISP that is monitoring a torrent file can access all IP addresses that have downloaded that file.
If your ISP is not actively monitoring you for torrent piracy, you should worry about copyright trolls. These are small businesses that locate individuals illegally downloading copyrighted material based on their IP addresses. Hollywood production companies might hire such companies to find people that are downloading their content illegally.
When they locate pirates, copyright trolls sign an agreement with the copyright holders allowing them to take legal action on their behalf. As a result, you might get a threatening email or a settlement letter through your ISP.
You Have Received a Settlement Letter. What Should You Do?
Copyright trolls will go through your ISP to send you a settlement letter that is not legally binding. The copyright trolls could threaten to sue you for more than $100,000 but could settle for as little as $3,000 because they know the court process is lengthy, risky, and pricey.
Also, trolls use intimidation and fear with the hopes that you will give in and pay the settlement money. After all, they only need a few people to pay up for them to make a profit.
As this Redditor reveals, the money piracy tracking companies collect rarely goes to the artist. It goes to the publishers, labels, or studios.
That means that you could ignore the first settlement letter. However, this does not mean the copyright troll will not send more threats or take the matter to court.
Copyright trolls could also subpoena your ISP to reveal your personal information. Therefore, until the ISP discloses your details, do not respond to the letter as you could disclose your identity. If the copyright troll finds out who you are and takes you to court, you can contact these lawyers for help.
Instances of Legal Action
Several countries have taken legal action against those found downloading copyrighted material.
In 2005, a Judge in Hong Kong sentenced a man to three months in jail for using BitTorrent to make three Hollywood movies available for others to download for free. Chan Nai-ming installed on his computer three movies: Daredevil, Red Planet, and Miss Congeniality in a format that enabled others to download them. Furthermore, he announced on a newsgroup that the movies were available for download.
In 2007, Anime distributor Odex sent cease and desist letters to users in Singapore that had allegedly downloaded fansubbed anime through BitTorrent. Interestingly, one of the recipients was a nine-year-old student. The alleged offenders paid out-of-court settlements of about $2,000 each.
Countries Where Torrenting is Illegal
Some countries take downloading of copyrighted material very seriously.
According to an article on VPNMentor, if you download copyrighted material in Finland, Germany, France, Great Britain, Japan, and UAE, you will be fined.
The US, China, Malaysia, Australia, Italy, and Russia have shut down torrenting sites. Conversely, nations like Canada, India, Romania, and Greece overlook the download of copyrighted content.
Accessing free content is fun until you get caught. Therefore, your safest bet is not to torrent at all. Streaming services like Netflix are affordable and available in almost any place in the world. You can also find music from your favorite artists on YouTube.