Is it illegal to torrent?

Written by clare edwards
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Is it illegal to torrent?
Torrents make file sharing faster. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Torrenting is a decentralised way of sharing files. Instead of downloading a monolithic file housed in a single location, a torrent program breaks files up into small parts. As users download sections of the file onto their computers, these sections become available for other users to download from them. Torrenting allows users to download and share software, music, movies, books and images. Torrenting itself is not illegal, but some torrent files are.

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What Is File Sharing?

File sharing is the distribution of digital information between users. File sharing goes back to the early days of computing. Before the Internet, files were shared by storing them on a disk and then copying the disk or via notice board services such as CBBS. With the rise of the World Wide Web and the introduction of formats such as MP3, file sharing became more and more common. The introduction of BitTorrent in 2001 made file sharing even easier.

How Torrenting Works

A user who wishes to create a torrent starts by making a torrent descriptor file. This is a small file containing information about the torrent which can be distributed via e-mail or on the Web. Next, the user makes the complete file available for download using a BitTorrent node. This is called "seeding" and the file is called a "seed." Other users who have the descriptor file can now begin to download the file, which is broken up into sections called pieces. People downloading the file are called "peers" or sometimes "leechers." As each person gets a piece of the file, that piece also becomes available to other users, with each user uploading and downloading simultaneously until they have a complete version of the torrented file.

Legality

The BitTorrent protocol, torrenting software and the practice of torrenting files are all perfectly legal. Not all torrents are legal, however. The ease with which large files can be shared via torrenting has created an surge in copyright theft. Movies, music, books, computer games and software are all pirated and distributed via BitTorrent. Despite the introduction of legislation to prevent this kind of piracy, not to mention various lawsuits and arrests, illegal torrent sites continue to thrive.

Finding Legal Torrents

Downloading illegal torrents can potentially expose you to serious consequences, including heavy fines. Fortunately, you can find legal torrents that you can download without breaking the law. Sites such as Legit Torrents (legittorrents.info) and ClearBits (clearbits.net) can help you to access these. Content includes public domain material -- such as works with expired copyrights -- and work licensed under Creative Commons, a flexible licensing system that allows not-for-profit sharing.

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