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What is an Illegal Torrent?

By Rhonda Rivera
Updated May 16, 2024
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An illegal torrent is a file or multiple files downloaded without the permission of the copyright holder. In layman’s terms, the person downloading the files did not purchase them, nor were they gifted these files. The term illegal torrent is somewhat misleading because a torrent is simply a file that tells a BitTorrent™ client where to download the actual illegal files, i.e, music, games, or movies. Most people, however, refer to torrents as if they are the actual copyrighted music, game, or movie files that are downloaded illegally. Due to this, torrents in general have developed a bad reputation, even though plenty of files available through BitTorrent™ technology are purchased, no longer copyrighted, or available free to use in the first place.

Torrents are downloaded using BitTorrent™ protocol, which enables a person to download from hundreds of other people’s computers at once. BitTorrent™ technology was developed in the early 2000s and became extremely popular because, in many situations, it lets people download files more quickly than just downloading it from one computer. Not all files are shared through BitTorrent™ protocol are legally owned by the sharer, however, which leads to Internet piracy. It also leads to more infected computers; studies show that a healthy percentage of torrent files — both legal and illegal — contain malware, which can range in severity from pop-up ads to software designed to help the intruder gather credit card numbers.

In some countries, there are repercussions for downloading an illegal torrent. For example, in the United States, some people have been given hefty fines for illegal music downloading. These repercussions are few and far between across the world, however, because of the sheer number of illegal torrent downloads. In fact, it is estimated that about 50% of the Internet’s total traffic is caused by torrent downloading, though many of these downloads are legal.

There are various reasons why copyrighted files are shared on BitTorrent™ protocol so often. Many people disagree with copyright laws, especially those of the United States, and view them as a form of censorship. Sometimes, the downloaded digital media is not legally available in the user’s own country but is available for download via BitTorrent™ protocol, or the person cannot afford to pay for the software. Still, other times an illegal torrent is downloaded, shared, or both out of apathy or ignorance of copyright laws. Whatever the reason, illegal torrent downloading is a widespread crime.

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Discussion Comments
By anon937676 — On Mar 06, 2014

This post is very interesting as it is not the torrents that are illegal; it is the contents of the music, movies and software in the torrent that are illegal and people can't keep track of it so authorities and Internet Service Providers (ISP's) shut down or don't allow you to access the sites or files.

However, there are other people who risk their lives because they start their own bit torrent sited that are exactly the same, only on a proxy server (different hoster).

By James13 — On Mar 29, 2013

Is there is a list of files that are considered illegal to download? I have extensively searched and not found any list usable as a guide for what may or may not be downloaded.

How can ignorance not be an excuse when there is nothing available on the internet that lists what may or may not be downloaded?

In conclusion, no organization, government, or individual should be allowed to prosecute for downloading or uploading anything available on the internet without a commonly known, easily searchable, and widely publicized list of the prosecutable downloads.

I suggest that a single web address be used to display a database of prosecutable files available on the internet that includes, but is not limited to: enough info to identify the file by file name; expiration date of enforcement; type of enforcement (possession, upload, download); organization, government, or individual claiming the enforcement privilege.

By anon324691 — On Mar 12, 2013

Downloading illegal torrents is so easy to do. If they really cared so much, they would remove all torrents, illegal and legal ones.

Also, technically everything is piracy these days. Lending a DVD to a friend to watch is piracy.

By anon319348 — On Feb 12, 2013

If it's not right to download pirated movies, then why is it so easy to do? I mean, it takes one click on so many free sites, it's a joke. They say it's wrong then they give us all we need to commit the crime.

By anon278356 — On Jul 06, 2012

Can't live without torrent.

That's my motto. Torrent has helped me get almost everything I want, from nostalgic music to awesome next-gen games.

By anon262061 — On Apr 18, 2012

I don't want to download a file illegally - I really don't. I am looking for an audiobook which I can't find anywhere. It's not even listed on the author's own website. I would be more than willing to buy it if I could, but I can't. If torrent will help me get the audiobook, if it's my only option, I'll use it.

By julies — On Sep 29, 2011

I found this article very interesting as I have always wondered if downloading torrents is illegal.

I have come across a lot of websites where this looks like it is perfectly legitimate. I would still be concerned about computer issues though.

Any way I look at it, I don't see it as being a very good idea. If I want something, I don't mind paying for it. That way I know that I have it legally and won't be infecting my computer.

By andee — On Sep 29, 2011

Even if some files are legal to download through a torrent, I don't think it would be worth the risk of possibly infecting my computer.

It seems like I have to constantly go to greater lengths to make sure my computer stays clean and doesn't get a virus or any malware on it.

If I did a bunch of downloading like that, I think I would only be putting my computer at greater risk.

This isn't much of an issue for me because I don't do much downloading on my computer. For someone like my son who likes to download a lot of music and games, this would be something he would be more interested in doing.

By SZapper — On Sep 29, 2011

@JessicaLynn - Not everyone is tech savvy though. I can easily imagine someone who doesn't know that much about the Internet thinking it would be okay to download stuff from a torrent. After all, if it's illegal, why would it be so easy to do?

I do think it's pretty sleazy to steal music and stuff, so I don't do it. However, I would also be equally as worried about infecting my computer with a computer virus. For people who do know that downloading torrents is wrong, I think this should serve as a deterrent anyway. It's probably way cheaper to just buy that song than to fix your computer because it's broke due to a virus!

By wander — On Sep 28, 2011

@Mae82 - I really think that it is what you download that makes the files illegal. If you are downloading the latest blockbuster movie, that is still in theaters, you can be sure it is pirated.

With smaller bands, the issue becomes a lot more difficult. Some bands put their own torrents out their for exposure, which makes them fine to download. Same with authors who self-publish and distribute some of their work for free as ebooks.

I think you can easily figure out if what your downloading is illegal by asking whether or not you would pay for it in a store. If it has a price tag, it is unlikely the distributors want it going around for free.

By JessicaLynn — On Sep 27, 2011

I really don't think that ignorance is an excuse for downloading a file illegally. And honestly, I don't think it's even possible to be ignorant of copyright laws in the United States anyway.

Most people know you have to pay for music and DVD's at the store. So why all of a sudden would it just be free for you over the Internet? Even if you try to tell yourself you're not hurting anyone, you're still stealing.

By Mae82 — On Sep 27, 2011

Is it illegal to download torrents, or does it depend on the actual file contents?

I have been using a torrent searcher to help me find ebooks to read and samples of music from bands that I love.

There are so many free music torrent downloads available that it is really hard to tell what is up for everyone to share, and what is being pirated. I suppose ignorance isn't an excuse for pirating files, but with thousand of people sharing things online, how can anyone possibly keep track of it all? I love the files I have collected, but if downloading those torrents is illegal, I guess I'll just have to quit cold turkey.

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