Can you safely visit file-sharing sites and download torrents in the United States? Before you install a BitTorrent client and start sharing files, you should explore the legal issues associated with it. Security threats, lawsuits, and reduced Internet speeds are a few of the potential problems you may face.
Is Torrenting in the US Legal?
Yes, downloading files through P2P (Peer to Peer) is legal in the United States. The use of BitTorrent technology and protocols is not illegal, but the content that you download may be.
You can find many legitimate torrents. Some content creators use P2P file-sharing to easily distribute their digital work. It reduces the demands for creators or developers while giving users a faster way to download files.
You can find music, independent movies, software, free trials, and other digital goods distributed legally through torrents. However, this process becomes illegal when you attempt to share copyrighted material without the authorization of the copyright holder. Downloading such content is considered illegal.
Despite the legal concerns, millions of users still use BitTorrent programs to download their favorite media. In fact, about one-fourth of all torrenting in the US includes copyrighted television series and films.
Laws Against Copyrighted Content in the USA
Over the years, legislators passed several different laws to help combat piracy. These laws include the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which provides punishment for those that distribute copyrighted works. However, the DMCA laws typically pertain to the sites that host torrent files and the individuals that upload the protected content.
Individual users may face prosecution under the No Electronic Theft Act (NET Act), passed in 1997. This law allows lawsuits against users that download illegal movies, TV shows, games, and other copyrighted digital content.
ISPs and Copyright Watchdogs Monitor Trackers
The biggest risks of torrenting include malicious attacks and legal threats, depending on the type of content you download. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and monitoring agencies (copyright watchdogs or trolls) monitor public torrent trackers.
The trackers contain the IP addresses of the peers in the swarm. Anyone following the activity in those trackers can see the IP addresses. The monitoring groups look for cases of copyright infringement. ISPs and attorneys representing copyright holders send notices to discourage torrenting activity, but they can take additional action, such as filing a lawsuit.
Torrenting Lawsuits Rarely Make it to Court
In 2011, a judge granted a $20,000 judgment for copyright infringement in a file-sharing case with two defendants. However, in most cases, lawyers file lawsuits against an entire swarm of file-sharing users. None of these cases have proceeded. The lawyers that pursue these cases are nicknamed copyright trolls. Judges in several of the cases dismissed the lawsuits.
Besides these lawsuits, copyright holders typically go after the sites that host the torrents. Movie studios and other companies work with ISPs to block known pirate sites and trackers. Some torrent sites voluntarily remove links to illegal content. For example, Mininova only hosts freely licensed digital content. In 2005, BitTorrent signed an agreement with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to remove illegal links.
What does this mean for you? If you attempt to download protected movies or shows, you may get a threatening letter from your ISP. There's also the possibility of becoming a defendant in a lawsuit that could never proceed to court.
ISPs May Throttle Your Speeds or Cancel Your Services
When your ISP detects illegal downloads, you may receive a warning notice. However, it doesn't necessarily arrive immediately. Most ISPs retain data related to your internet activity for several months or longer. For example, Comcast retains data for about six months while AT&T keeps a log for one year. Keeping the data for longer gives copyright trolls more time to track down users that downloaded protected content.
They use deep packet inspection (DPI) to monitor your downloads and the sites you visit. ISPs also restrict access to known trackers and can even throttle your download speeds. In some cases, they have canceled services of users that downloaded such files.
How Can You Protect Yourself When Sharing Files in the USA?
Obviously, there are quite some things you can do to be on the safe side when torrenting in this country, such as getting an antivirus and downloading torrents from reputable sources.
But, when it comes to protecting yourself against monitoring agencies in the USA, the most important thing is to use a Virtual Private Network. Make sure a VPN is turned on before starting the download process and connecting to torrent trackers. With a VPN software, traffic routes through a secure server in a different country.
Best VPNs for Torrenting in the USA
The Virtual Private Network changes everything about how others identify you on the Internet. Instead of seeing your IP address in the swarm of seeders and leechers, ISPs and watchdog groups see the IP address of the server that you connect to. In other words, the VPN helps you remain anonymous by not showing your real IP.
After analyzing several providers, we've put together our favorite VPNs for torrenting in America. Not only these allow file-sharing in the USA, but they also have a combination of features, tools and server locations that make them ideal.
In our opinion, this is the best VPN for the USA. The servers are strategically distributed in this country and also others close by. The proximity of servers to connect to won’t ever be a problem with NordVPN. That will help a lot with connection speeds, which is one of the most important details when the goal is to download torrents.
Another important detail is the fact that they are based in Panama, which has no data retention laws. The American government cannot make any type of request regarding personal info of NordVPN’s users.
ExpressVPN is one of the providers with the highest number of servers available. A user in North America can connect to a server in a neighbor country in Central or South America, and have a foreign IP address. Our point is that the connection will be fast because those countries are not too far away.
The company is situated in the British Virgin Islands, and that is no coincidence. It's one of the best locations to avoid foreign government agencies from snooping on their user's activity.
We don't usually recommend new VPN providers, but Surfshark is an exception. Besides its young age, this VPN is already competing with brands that have been developing their software for many years. Their start couldn't be better, and a great number of Americans is very pleased with this VPN.
The low price of their plans is also contributing to such a good launch. All in all, it offers modern encryption and lots of extra features at a reasonable cost.
Safe Torrenting in America Requires a VPN
In the end, torrenting is a great way to obtain files and find digital content. However, getting copyrighted material in the US remains illegal.
Sometimes, you may even unknowingly download an illegal torrent without realizing it. If you want to remain safe, always use a VPN. Masking your IP address and encrypting your activity keeps your ISP and others from tracking your activity.