Disclaimer: Affiliate links help us to continue bringing you new content. Learn more.
Millions of people download files through torrent software in the United Kingdom. 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. You may face legal action if your ISP catches you sharing copyrighted digital material, such as pirated shows or movies. 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 primarily 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 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 regulations 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 users’ shared data 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 records 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 the user’s fear. 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.
Best VPN for Safe Torrenting in the UK
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, it will hide your real IP address. If someone is monitoring a tracker, they will see the IP of the VPN server, not yours. These are our VPN recommendations for the United Kingdom.
- Several P2P-optimized servers in the region
- Essential tools for safe torrenting
- No-logging policy, and it's based in a privacy-friendly location
- Fast servers located in the area
- Essential and also rare features, like a speed test
- Strong encryption, modern protocols, and a no-logging policy
- PureVPN offers servers specially built for torrenting
- It provides all the necessary tools for secure P2P
- Great price-quality ratio, one of the best prices on the market
Downloading torrents in the UK is a complicated and risky subject. Even if you only download from sources that promote legal torrenting, you may receive notices from entities trying to take advantage of you. If you are not protected, sharing media may cost you money.
To protect your privacy and not worry about snoopers, you need to hide your IP address and encrypt your connection. Currently, a Virtual Private Network provides the best solution to achieve that level of anonymity.