Millions of people in the United Kingdom download files through torrent software such as qBitTorrent. Some analysts estimate that up to 98% of this P2P file sharing involves pirated content.
The United Kingdom is part of the Five Eyes, an alliance of countries that work together to share intelligence. These are also the countries with the strictest data retention laws.
Basically, if you live in the UK, the government and your ISP monitor your online activity. If your ISP catches you sharing copyrighted digital material such as pirated shows or movies, you may face legal action. Here is what you should know to remain safe.
What Does the Law Say About Torrenting in the UK?
The UK has two pieces of legislation that address the illegal distribution of copyrighted content:
- The Digital Economy Act of 2010
- The Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act of 1988.
The older act protects copyright holders while the newer law deals mostly with digital copyright issues. Sharing illegal files violates these acts.
To comply with the legislation, most major ISPs in the United Kingdom ban sites that may infringe these acts. Sky, Virgin, and BT are a few of the ISPs that block access to torrenting sites and trackers.
What Happens When You Violate UK Copyright Laws?
While the UK blocks many torrent databases, users still find ways to reach the sites and download pirated content.
When users violate copyright laws, they risk consequences. The laws allow the UK courts to fine the guilty parties up to dozens of thousands of pounds for digital piracy.
For the average user, torrenting in the UK brings the chance of receiving a fine. In 2008, the top five ISPs worked with media companies to track users illegally downloading movies, music, and computer games. The courts fined about 25,000 torrent users £300 each for downloading pirated content.
How Does the UK Track Your Torrenting Activity?
The most common methods to help curb online piracy are deep packet inspection (DPI), DNS blocking and IP blocking. The blocking techniques restrict access to popular torrent websites and trackers. With DPI, the government and ISPs can detect and track the data that users share using P2P connections through torrent software.
ISPs may also retain logs of your online activity. In 2016, the UK government attempted to pass legislation requiring ISPs to keep logs for up to 12 months. While the law did not pass, the Home Secretary may serve an ISP with a retention notice requiring the ISP to store the logs for up to a year.
Unfortunately, you have no way to determine if your ISP received a retention notice.
Monitoring Torrent Trackers
Besides using DNS and IP blocking to restrict access to sites and DPI to detect file-sharing activity, ISPs and copyright trolls monitor the torrent trackers.
When you use a BitTorrent client to seed a file, trackers keep track of the connected peers. It works like that to facilitate the P2P file-sharing process.
The trackers contain useful metadata such as which parts of the file each user has, upload speeds, and the IP addresses of everyone in the swarm. ISPs can use these details to catch customers downloading copyrighted digital content.
A copyright troll is a lawyer or law firm that “trolls” trackers with the hope of uncovering illegal activity. They monitor trackers and send notices to the entire swarm, hoping to extort some money.
Unfortunately, even if you use a torrent manager to download free media, you may receive a threatening legal notice. Many copyright trolls try to scam P2P users, hoping to be paid out of fear of the user. The result is that some people end up paying fines without breaking any law.
That’s why everyone needs to protect themselves when downloading torrent files. Not just because of illegal activities, but because of the many shady agencies trying to intimidate users and make easy money.
How to Share Files Safely in the United Kingdom
To keep your ISP and other agencies from monitoring your activity, use a VPN. A Virtual Private Network establishes a tunnel connecting your computer to a server operated by the VPN service. Everything that passes through that secure tunnel is encrypted.
Besides that, your real IP address will be hidden. If someone is monitoring a tracker, they will see the IP of the VPN server, not yours.
Best VPNs for Safe Torrenting in the UK
This is our selection of the best VPN providers for the United Kingdom. A British user shouldn’t have any issues when torrenting with these VPN programs, as long as they are properly configured.
Choosing NordVPN as the top VPN for the UK was not a difficult decision. And there are quite some reasons for that.
The main reason is the number of server locations this VPN provider has all over Europe. They have servers in approximately 40 European countries, including the United Kingdom. You can select a country in the vicinity and have an IP coming from that place. That will increase anonymity and also provide a fast connection, thanks to the proximity of the server.
But NordVPN has much more than that. They are based in a neutral country, they offer good security tools and they have a great attitude towards file-sharing.
Not only ExpressVPN offers a good amount of servers around this region, but they are also very fast.
Since they let users download torrents in all their servers, there are plenty of good choices available at all times. This VPN is a bit more expensive than average, but for a great number of British people, it’s completely worth it.
CyberGhost is also an interesting option when it comes to being anonymous in the United Kingdom.
They optimized their servers for different purposes, such as streaming, surfing the web and, of course, torrenting. The number of servers for P2P may be less, but they are optimized for that type of traffic, which means they have good download speeds.
The software was recently redesigned. There are interesting and useful features that increase security. Some of them are unique to this VPN
Bottom Line: Torrenting Unprotected Exposes Your IP Address
The main takeaway from this information is that you should pay close attention when downloading content via P2P. Be careful with copyrighted content and decide if you are willing to take the risk of downloading it.
There two important legislation acts that help to protect the owners of the copyrighted material in the UK. If you are not protected, sharing media may cost you money.
But this subject gets more complicated. Even if you only download legal torrents, you may receive notices from entities trying to take advantage of you.
If you want to protect your privacy and not being worried about snoopers, you need to hide your IP address. and preferably, encrypt your connection. Currently, a Virtual Private Network provides the best solution to achieve that level of anonymity.