Almost everything is available on torrenting platforms and can be downloaded for free. However, torrents recently dipped in popularity due to a number of popular sites shutting down and production companies promising legal actions against torrent users.
This gives rise to the question, what happens if you get caught torrenting? In this article, we’ll tell you all there is to know about the legal aspects of torrenting.
Let’s get started:
Is Torrenting Legal?
Torrenting itself is not illegal. It is completely legal to use any torrenting platform. However, uploading or downloading certain contents may be illegal.
Let us be clear. Not everything on torrent platforms is illegal. Many developers release their programs via torrent. Some software companies also release drivers and software on torrents. Moreover, some free-to-use (royalty free) images or videos may also be posted on torrent.
Hence, you will find a lot of ‘legal’ material on torrent sites, which is why torrenting itself isn’t illegal.
It can be difficult to understand what’s legal and what’s illegal. In simple words, material that you do not own or material that isn’t freely available for you to upload/download due to copyright laws or other such reasons is illegal.
However, since not everything comes with a ‘copyright’ warning, it is not uncommon for users to get confused. But, the fact remains that ignorance is not a valid excuse.
If you are caught using or spreading copyrighted material, then you may be prosecuted depending on the laws of your country.
What Happens if You are Caught Torrenting?
Believe it or not, your ISP always knows what you’re up to. If you have been torrenting for a while but never received a warning, then it either indicates that you’re not downloading or uploading illegal content, or your ISP provider has decided to be lenient. But, this doesn’t mean they’ll never take action. Also, you must be careful about other bodies as well.
Different corporations keep an eye on your internet activities, including government bodies and production companies who are willing to go the extra mile to prevent the widespread of their work.
If you are ever caught, you may have to face one or several of these scenarios, depending on the nature of your activity, the body taking an action, and your geographical location:
- Warning Letter
In most cases, the copyright holder or your internet service provider will send you a warning letter, that may ask you to stop sharing or downloading illegal content. The first letter is typically not a legal notice, and in some cases, you may receive multiple warning letters.
- Slowed Down Internet
If you continue to take part in illegal activities despite receiving a warning letter then your ISP may slow down your internet connection to prevent you from using torrents.
- Legal Notice
Owners of copyrighted materials or their representatives may send you a legal notice if you are caught downloading illegal content. Depending on the law in your country, you may have to face a harsh monetary punishment, or even worse. In the United States, for example, things can get out of hand quickly:
You may have to pay up to US$150,000 per file. Moreover, you may even have to pay other charges, including your lawyer’s fee. A US court recently ruled that it is okay for organizations to sue for US$222,000 for copyright cases.
- Jail Time
Offenders may have to spend up to five times in jail for uploading copyrighted content.
How Someone is Caught Torrenting
Your ISP knows which website you’re accessing and what kind of content you’re sharing or viewing. Hence, it doesn’t come as a surprise when they send a warning letter. Torrent trolls and the true copyright owners or their reps in Europe may also send you a warning letter.
They usually catch culprits through social media platforms and torrent sites. The trick is simple. They use the same torrent platform to find IPs of other users. They then get in touch with the ISP to find details about the user, including name, address, etc. They use this information to send a legal notice.
The process is quite similar in most countries, however, possible fines and punishments different. Here’s a small breakdown:
- Germany: You may have to pay up to 1500 euros if you’re caught. One of the most popular cases in the country involved a 33-year-old operator who lead a torrent site. The man was sentenced to 46 months in prison a few years ago.
- France: Get ready to pay 150 euros if you’re caught using torrents to download illegal content in France. A 16-year-old boy was heavily fined in France in 2017 for running a channel that streamed pirated content.
- The Netherlands: While the exact amount in the Netherlands isn’t clear, the law says that fines cannot be artificially high. There aren’t many such cases in the country but production houses in the country were in the news last year for announcing a fine of €150 per film to prevent illegal sharing.
- The UK: The penalties depend on the seriousness of the offense and can be up to £5,000 or six months in jail. A very popular case in the UK is of a man who was sentenced to 12 months in prison for illegally sharing 40 songs.
- The USA: Culprits may have to spend up to five years in jail or pay up to US$150,000 per file or both. One of the most popular cases in the country is of a woman who was fined to pay US$220,000 for illegally downloading 24 songs.
- Canada: Canadians can be fined CA$5,000 for illegally downloading content. The laws are gradually getting stringent and a man was recently hit with a lawsuit for illegally downloading and sharing movies.
- New Zealand: The law in New Zealand is pretty strict and offenders may have to pay up to NZ$15,000 per download. Penalties may go higher if someone is found to distribute copies of downloaded content. Such cases are rare in New Zealand; however, Village Roadshow was recently in the news for sending out ‘fines’ of up to NZ$200 to culprits.
- Australia: Penalties vary greatly between AU$80 to AU$2,000, depending on the nature of the offense. The government appears to be very serious regarding punishing offenders and sentenced a man, identified as Haider Majid Salam Al Baghdadi, in 2017 to 18 months prison time for content piracy.
Some very stringent countries include China and the United Arab Emirates. A man was sentenced to six months in prison in the UAE for sharing illegal content. He also had to pay a huge fine of 50,000 Dirhams (more than US$13,000). Similarly, the founder of a popular torrent platform was jailed in China for 3 years for piracy. He also had to pay a fine of US$116,000.
When you download a file through torrent, your IP address gets linked with other IP addresses that are hosting that file. To find offenders, companies have now started to plant files that they think users are more likely to download.
Organizations also work with major ISPs to generate a list of users who use more bandwidth than other users as it may indicate torrenting.
How Can I Download Torrent Safely?
Despite all the risks, millions of people still use torrents. You will find the latest movies and series on torrent which is why people are often on the lookout for a safe way to use torrents.
If you want to use torrents without getting caught then consider using a VPN. It provides users with a layer of security by using an encrypted network to connect to the internet. As a result, your IP remains hidden from not only copyright owners and torrent trolls but government organizations as well. Moreover, even your ISP will not be able to find out what you’re up to.
Hence, there will be no risk of being caught or your ISP throttling your connection. You’d be able to continue to download files at a high speed without any worries.
If you do not want to use a VPN then make sure to only download ‘legal’ files. Moreover, we must mention that it is legal to download copyrighted content for personal use in some European countries, including Poland and Spain.
How Can a VPN Benefit Torrenting
Here’s how a VPN can keep you protected:
- Security: VPNs provide users with a layer of security by not only hiding the location but also masking the IP. As a result, your true IP will never be revealed to anyone and you will be able to browse the internet securely. It will not only help you download torrents but also ensure your data remains safe and secure.
- High Speed: Since your ISP will not be able to find what you’re up to, they will not be able to put sanctions on you or slow down your connection. As a result, you will continue to receive good internet speeds.
- Risk Free: VPNs like Surfshark offer features such as Kill Switch that ensure your IP remains hidden even if the connection drops. This feature can be very beneficial when it comes to downloading and streaming. Other than this, Surfshark can also protect your computer against viruses and malware. Torrent files are known to be infected. The best way to protect your computer is to stay away from such files. Surfshark has a unique feature called CleanWeb that works quite like an antivirus by identifying files that may be infected so you can be safe and secure. It can even be helpful in identifying phishing links and preventing data breaches and hacks.
Our Final Word
We understand your love for torrents. Different countries have different laws that affect P2P sharing. Hence, there are various legal actions taken against someone who was caught torrenting – like jail time or fines as high as $150,000. So before you start, you should get to know the laws in your country.
If you want to continue to download your favorite files without any risk, then consider using a VPN like Surfshark.
VPNs come with a solid layer of security, are risk-free, and let’s you enjoy high speeds. It’s important to choose the right VPN since not all VPNs support torrenting, and some may provide poor protection.
In any case, we say: torrent at your own responsibility.
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