Torrenting in Australia

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As you know, torrenting is a way of sharing files. In Australia, file-sharing is just as legal as sending and receiving smartphone photos over a Bluetooth network. Keep in mind that by torrenting, we mean using the BitTorrent protocol to exchange digital files over the internet. 

However, this topic gets complicated once we get into certain legal aspects, such as intellectual property, licensed media, and works protected by copyright. And these legal aspects happen to be well-established, both in terms of legal precedent and legislative intent. 

There were quite some court cases that can paint a clear picture of the copyright laws in Australia. Let’s have a look at some specific examples:

The Historic Universal Music vs. Kazaa Australian Federal Court Decision 

In 2005, the BitTorrent protocol was still young but had already achieved widespread popularity in the file-sharing world. That year, a federal court issued a ruling and opinion on a case that would set an important precedent on copyright infringement through peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing. 

The Australian office of Universal Music led a long list of applicants in the case. The respondents were Sharman License Holdings and AltNet, two companies that distributed the Kazaa Media Desktop file-sharing software, which ran on the FastTrack protocol. 

Universal Music was encouraged by the Australian Record Industry Association to go after Sharman for outright copyright infringement of MP3 files. The court did not see it this way. However, the decision came down to declaring the respondent responsible for authorizing Kazaa users to exchange copyrighted music recordings. 

Eventually, the case was resolved outside of the courtroom, but it became a landmark ruling that would influence a future decision regarding torrenting in a more important case. 

In this 2012 case filed before the High Court of Australia, the applicants represented major film studios such as Paramount and Sony. The defendant was a popular internet service provider (ISP). The BitTorrent protocol was at the heart of this case, specifically concerning seeding and downloading films and television series. 

AFACT referred to the Universal vs. Sharman case to claim that iiNet had authorized copyright infringement, but not by endorsing P2P file-sharing applications. 

Based on the argument presented by AFACT, iiNet should have disconnected customers whom the applicants discovered to have engaged in downloading seeded torrent files. 

It is important to note that AFACT conducted its own private investigations of the BitTorrent network. The results revealed the public internet protocol (IP) addresses of iiNet torrenting enthusiasts. 

iiNet made a good argument

Even though the AFACT vs. iiNet case progressed to the High Court through various appeals, the original court findings were largely in favor of the ISP because of its reasonable argument: 

The direct monitoring conducted by AFACT indeed revealed identifiable information about torrenting subscribers. However, disciplinary action such as service disconnection would require a law enforcement investigation plus due process in court. 

At the time, residential service provided by iiNet was mostly DSL technology that would have required the disconnection of a telephone line. 

The High Court ultimately found iiNet not to be liable for copyright infringement carried out by subscribers. However, the technical details of the AFACT investigation by means of direct monitoring of torrenting activity set an alarming precedent that we will review next. 

Dallas Buyers Club LLC v iiNet 

The applicant in this 2015 case argued in the Australian federal court was the production company of an acclaimed film starring Hollywood actors Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.

A screenshot of the movie Dallas Buyer Club

The crux of the case relates to whether direct monitoring of BitTorrent networks (and the resulting logs) can justify discovery in court cases. 

In other words, the production company wanted a court order that would compel Australian ISPs to turn over their records. That would identify subscribers caught torrenting McConaughey’s award-winning film.

The court sided with the production company based on the underlying technology provided by Maverik, a BitTorrent monitoring application developed by a German firm.

What is Maverik?

Maverik is a BitTorrent software client engineered to search for high-profile swarms that form around prominent files. 

In addition to the film mentioned above, other productions such as “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Vampire Academy” have used Maverik to identify both seeders and leechers. 

From a technical point of view, Maverik is not very sophisticated. After all, popular clients such as qBittorrent display the IP addresses of connected peers by default. It only needs to connect to the swarm, and it will get the IP addresses of the peers. 

With this information, clerks will be able to determine which Australian ISPs should be contacted for records and logs for the following purposes: 

  • Establishing the identity of the subscribers. 
  • Filing civil complaints and lawsuits for copyright infringement.
  • Holding those individuals caught torrenting liable for seeding or downloading files they are not unauthorized to distribute.
  • Discouraging others from torrenting. 

Regarding the last point, the Australian Government Department of Communications published a 2019 report showing a decline in copyright file torrenting. There was a 10% reduction in this kind of online activity year-over-year. This can be explained by the outcomes of an even more significant court case, which we will explain below. 

Roadshow Films vs. Telstra 

Before this federal court decision from 2016, Australia topped the list of countries with the highest file-sharing rates. Things changed soon after a ruling was made against respondent Telstra, an ISP headquartered in Queensland. 

The applicant film production company was awarded an injunction ordering Telstra to block access to public torrent trackers such as ISO Hunt and The PirateBay. Other applicants quickly followed suit to gain their requests against Australian ISPs. 

By 2018, the scope of the landmark Roadshow vs. Telstra case was expanded to include Android apps such as HDSubs+, which relied on IPTV technology instead of BitTorrent. But the focus was still on unauthorized access to digital media protected by copyright. This resulted from section 115A of the Copyright Act, which was broadened through legislative action in 2018. 

It is safe to summarize this case as having been the most impactful on Australian torrenting. 

What Can We Learn From These Cases?

These are just a few of the total cases concerning torrenting copyrighted material in Australia. But it’s easy to make some conclusions:

It’s easy to find torrent users in Australia

A cyber print with the Australian flag

One of the biggest problems regarding online privacy is that Australian ISPs are expected to comply with court orders to turn over logs from the last 24 months. 

This could land you in considerable legal trouble if the ISP data shows you downloaded films, music, video games, and other digital works protected by copyright. 

On top of that, an intellectual property law firm uses direct monitoring tools, such as Maverik. Those tools can easily track you down by means of IP address harvesting. 

Compared to other jurisdictions, the penalties torrenting enthusiasts in Australia face are pretty harsh. 

Getting caught seeding or downloading copyright files in Australia could result in prosecution for online piracy. That’s a criminal offense with a maximum sentence of five years. However, monetary fines are more commonly issued than jail time.

How to Torrent Safely in Australia

Even if you only download legal torrent files, you should still protect yourself and become invisible when torrenting. The key to staying safe is not giving away your IP address or records of online activity. 

You can achieve this by utilizing a virtual private network (VPN) when using BitTorrent clients. A proper VPN connection will hide your IP address and encrypt data traffic so that prying eyes cannot see what you are doing online.

The Best VPNs to Download Torrents in Australia

Now that you understand why you should use this type of software, let’s see which VPNs are the most effective when downloading torrents in Australia. 

NordVPN

NordVPN

9.7
  • P2P-optimized servers in the Asia Pacific region
  • Fast speeds due to the proximity of neighboring servers
  • File-sharing friendly with a strict no-logging policy
PureVPN

PureVPN

9.5
  • Numerous torrent-dedicated servers in this region
  • They have a strong no-logging policy
  • Affordable option with all essential VPN features
Hideme

Hideme

9.1
  • Abundant servers in Australia and nearby countries
  • Safety features for enhanced security and anonymity
  • No-logging policy and based in privacy-friendly location

Final Thoughts

Torrenting in Australia can be risky because you may get caught and face harsh legal consequences. The several cases brought against Australian torrent users in recent years serve as a reminder of the need to take precautions when using the BitTorrent protocol.