Help clear up the confusion around torrent download software legality with our informative guide.

When it comes to downloading information from the internet, it’s normally very clear whether what you are doing is legal or illegal. However, when it comes to file sharing via a torrent download, peer-to-peer (P2P) clients, or file sharing, the waters become a little more muddied. How, then, can a responsible downloader be sure they’re staying on the right side of the law? 

What is it that makes the legality of torrent downloading so debatable? While there is no question that a lot of file sharing sites are used to access and distribute pirated music, videos, books, and more, the truth is that torrent download software such as uTorrent does have a legitimate purpose which justifies its existence.

In recent years, intellectual property (IP) holders and government agencies have been targeting the people who download and distribute copyright infringing material, even going so far as to send warning notices, fines, and even prosecuting some offenders. This means it’s important to know, if you are going to use torrent download software and websites, how to stay on the right side of the law.

What is Torrenting?

A torrent is a computer file which contains metadata about a particular piece, or pieces, of media. The torrent file does not contain the media itself, but rather all the information a client such as uTorrent requires to find and assemble it. The torrent file contains trackers which helps the client to take all the seeders (i.e. those users with the file on their network who have elected to share it with the website in question) of a download and form them into efficient distribution groups known as swarms.

The number of seeders and the strength of their connections, along with other factors, will determine how long the completed file will take to download and compile and, once the process is complete, the downloader can use the file as normal.

Why is it Illegal?

Torrenting is not illegal per se, but it depends on the nature of the media being downloaded. If the media in question has a copyright, or some other form of IP protection, held against it and it doesn’t belong to the person in possession of the file, then it is illegal for them to download or retain it – regardless of the manner in which they obtained it.

Pirate Bay has courted controversy in the past.

Pirate Bay has courted controversy in the past. (Image source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Sites such as The Pirate Bay which have expansive indices of illegally pirated material have long justified their existence by claiming they simply offer an indexing service and file-sharing platform. Their defence is that the sites are open for anyone to use and therefore the site administrators have no legal or moral responsibility for the nature or copyright status of the content which is listed.

The legitimacy of torrents varies widely around the world.

The legitimacy of torrents varies widely around the world. (Image source: vpnmentor.com)

However, various agencies tasked with enforcing IP protection have disagreed with this interpretation of the law, and these sites are routinely shut down. The issue is that it usually only takes a month or two for the site to move its hosting to servers in a different country and reopen the website as if nothing had happened.

This means government agencies are constantly playing catch-up with these websites and will quite often target users to obtain more reliable results. Some countries are stricter about illegal downloading than others, however. For example, in Switzerland, Spain, and Poland, downloading is permitted if it’s for personal use only and not for profit.

All this may lead you to wonder if there is any way to use torrent downloads which won’t land you with a criminal record?

In a Word – Yes

Thankfully, there are a whole bunch of great websites out there where you can download a whole bunch of open source and royalty free content.

#1 SXSW Torrent

The South by Southwest Festival occurs in Austin, Texas, every year, and serves to showcase some of the world’s newest and best music from up-and-coming groups and artists. SXSW Torrent is a repository of over 80gb of free music from 14 years of the festival for fans to download.

#2 Academic Torrents

An enormous repository packed to bursting with over 26 TB of scientific research data, Academic Torrents is a must-see for scientists and scholars alike. With the ability to search by paper, author, or dataset, and access complete research papers for free, standing on the shoulders of giants has never been easier thanks to the wonderful site.

#3 Vodo

If the latest movies from some of the world’s most talented indie directors is your idea of a good night in, then Vodo is the torrent site for you. It has a decent sized collection of over 200 free movies, with the option to donate a bit of money to creators if you wish.

#4 Public Domain Torrents

Perhaps classic and B-movies released in the early half of the 20th century are your thing. If so, Public Domain Torrents has a fantastic selection of these gems from the heyday of the silver screen. Featuring huge stars such as Charlie Chaplin and classic films such as The Little Shop of Horrors (the original black and white version, not the Rick Moranis musical remake) and Night of the Living Dead (the original black and white version, not the… well, you get the idea), Public Domain Torrents has whole loads of forgotten gems ready for the taking.

Almost all the films indexed on the site are ones on which the copyright has lapsed and are now considered in the public domain, so you can find some really big hits.

#5 Archive

If you are looking for the granddaddy of legitimate torrent sites, then Archive is the place for you. The site presently hosts over 2.5 million videos, four million audio files, and 15 million text-based files, all available to download for free and without copyright.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to make the most out of your torrent download software without falling foul of the long arm of the law.

You can check out our great range of torrent software here on FileHippo, right here. Know of any other great legitimate torrent sites you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.