Torrent-filter
January 21, 2011 11:46 AM   Subscribe

Realistically, how risky is downloading movies, music, tv shows, software, etc from bit torrent?

And what are some best practices for minimizing risks associated with such behavior?
posted by AceRock to Computers & Internet (31 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't use bittorrent -stick to direct download methods.

With bittorrent - you are also participating in actively distributing the content as well as downloading it - that's what people are getting nailed for. Plus it's publicly visible.
posted by TravellingDen at 11:49 AM on January 21, 2011


This depends on your jurisdiction and the kind of risk you're concerned with - legal or technical (viruses etc). You need to be a bit more specific.
posted by ripley_ at 11:50 AM on January 21, 2011


direct download methods

Care to elaborate?
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:53 AM on January 21, 2011


Don't download first run major releases still in theatres
Don't use public trackers
Run Peer Gaurdian
Buy a seedbox in a non-US jurisdiction
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:55 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


You should be able to turn off seeding in your torrent client; it may or may not affect what you can download (likely not, I believe). It is the uploaders, rather than the downloaders, who're getting "knock that off" notices from some ISPs. YMMV.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 12:02 PM on January 21, 2011


A useful alternative to bittorrent for media acquisition is Usenet - a combination of tools such as sabnzbd, sickbeard, couchpotato and an SSL based account with a high retention news server gets access to scene releases as fast or faster than bittorrent, without having to maintain a ratio, and with very little exposure of your activity.

(Or so I'm told...)
posted by nonliteral at 12:04 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


direct download methods

Care to elaborate?
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:53 AM on January 21 [+] [!]


Google "direct download."
posted by proj at 12:06 PM on January 21, 2011


From one source on the internet:
"Copyright lawsuits numbered 2,192 in 2009"

From another source on the internet:
"According to the FBI, in 2008 14,180 people were murdered in America."

Which makes you roughly 7 times as likely to be murdered than sued for a copyright violation.

I don't know what percentages of Americans download movies/music/etc, but let's guess that it's 1/3. That means roughly 100,000,000 people are downloading these things each year. With 2,192 lawsuits, then your chances of getting caught are roughly 0.0022%.

Another statistic I found shows 30,797 fatal car accidents in 2009. Assuming all 300,000,000 Americans travel by car, then your chances of being killed in a car accident are about 0.0103%.

That means you're about 5 times as likely to be killed in a car accident as to get caught for file sharing.

These numbers are just for perspective.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:06 PM on January 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


Don't know where you are located, but even if you are in the US you are generally fine.
I've been doing bit torrent downloads for the better part of 4-5 years. I download close to 100 gigs a month and seed about 150 a month. I've not once gotten a letter, nor am I concerned about getting one. Why? Plausible deniability. I run tor and have a second, open network. Second, I change ip addresses daily via scripts and my mac address gets changed once a week. Best of luck to any lawsuit sticking not that my plan is foolproof.
Finally, many of the lawsuits posted are based on kaaza and limewire based services and the few torrent ones have been thrown out on quite a few occasions.
I've never had a virus, and I am part of private/semi-private tracker sites which help keep unwanted people out of, and the community quickly flags bad material.
posted by handbanana at 12:09 PM on January 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also wanted to add direct downloads can be useful, but generally are harder to find and quality isn't always the best. On top of that there are limits for free downloads on rapidshare and the like unless you pay.
Torrents are generally faster.
In terms of peer guardian, I use to run that but it is mostly a false sense of security and blocks many useful peers.

Final note, if you torrent at least seed what you take. Its the only way the community can thrive.
posted by handbanana at 12:13 PM on January 21, 2011


I stick to a couple basic rules:

1. Limit downloading, both in terms of time and bandwidth. I usually limit download to around 10 kilobytes per second. I often go weeks between downloading. How effective this is I have no idea, but it makes me feel better.

2. I download movies rarely and only after the DVD is out. Downloading a movie currently in theatres is very risky as mentioned above. (I once had my wrist slapped for doing just that.)
posted by redyaky at 12:14 PM on January 21, 2011


1. Limit downloading, both in terms of time and bandwidth. I usually limit download to around 10 kilobytes per second. I often go weeks between downloading. How effective this is I have no idea, but it makes me feel better.

I hope you mean uploading, because limiting your download speed to something that slow actually ensures that you will be visible on the network for much, much longer than you need to be.
posted by proj at 12:20 PM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Run Peer Gaurdian

There's not really any evidence that Peer Guardian is very effective.

You should be able to turn off seeding in your torrent client; it may or may not affect what you can download (likely not, I believe). It is the uploaders, rather than the downloaders, who're getting "knock that off" notices from some ISPs. YMMV.

Due to the way that IP addresses are collected for these sorts of takedown notices, these settings will almost certainly not make a difference. A user may be able to prove in court that they didn't actually upload any data, but their IP address being listed in a swarm is enough evidence for most copyright holders to send a takedown notice for.

Which makes you roughly 7 times as likely to be murdered than sued for a copyright violation.

Note that most of these infringement cases are settled outside of court, and that you could be banned from your ISP or otherwise be negatively affected even if you are never formally sued or prosecuted.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:23 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Basically repeating what others have said above.

Stick with private trackers (memail me for invites to some of the better ones).

Consider using Usenet (astraweb is offering access for $11/month for "life").

Limit your amount of down/uploading in accordance with what your ISP will look at (i.e., Comcast's 150GB/month).
posted by kuanes at 12:24 PM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine, let's say, swears by private trackers on encrypted (that is, SSL) connections. If you follow those two rules, you're probably okay.

It gets dicier if you're on campus internet— the campus network admins watch out for heavy torrent traffic (although they won't sue you). If you're downloading from public trackers, be aware that these organizations target campus ip addresses.

My friend received a letter from HBO on a campus ip address for downloading from demonoid, but few of those cases actually result in a lawsuit.
posted by grammar corrections at 12:25 PM on January 21, 2011


proj,

I meant download. Your point is valid. Since I usually upload at the same rate (I don't have a fast connection) and try to upload as much as I download, I'm usually visible for that amount of time anyway. By limiting the download speed as well I feel like I'm not as good a target as someone who is downloading a higher rate. I know it's not the most convincing argument.
posted by redyaky at 12:32 PM on January 21, 2011


A friend got an email from Comcast the other day telling her that she was being sued for torrenting a "tracked" version of Black Swan. So that supports the "don't torrent releases still in theaters" thing. On further research it also looks like it was more of a cease and desist thing than that she's really going to be taken for everything she doesn't have. But, yeah, avoid new releases.
posted by ldthomps at 12:32 PM on January 21, 2011


Log files (can) last forever. You have no idea what the legal ramifications of downloading something via bittorrent (which also distributes) might be a year from now, much less five, or ten, or twenty. That, to me, is a great big reason to not bother with it. The risk is unquantifiable. Right now, a lot of work is being done to hash out questions like, "What kind of fines will pirates face? How automated will the lawsuite process be?"

Illegal immigrants caught in large-scale raids are pushed through an assembly-line legal process that creates a situation where the only reasonable choice is to give up their rights. (Or at least that is sometimes the case.) It seems uncomfortably plausible that the same thing could happen to citizen pirates at some point in the future. Content distributors are certainly lobying hard enough to make that a reality.

I'm writing from a U.S. perspective. Things may be different elsewhere.
posted by jsturgill at 1:16 PM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I downloaded Sickbeard and it looks pretty slick, although AVG complained about it being potential malware? Can anybody else vouch for Sickbeard and SABnzbd? Downloaded from their top Google hits...

Easynews is another way to go.
posted by Skwirl at 1:22 PM on January 21, 2011


Jsturgill,
Log files from an ISP are usually only kept 6 months to a year (according to an isp source I've spoken with @ Verizon) on top of that one must consider copyright infringement is a civil suit, not a criminal. Statue of limitations would come into effect. Right now, for songs infringement fines are up to $750 per infringement, and like I mentioned earlier there has yet to be a truly successful suit brought, the most famous has been overturned on appeal and many cases have been thrown out. Add on top of that the logistics an isp would have to go through to identify an 'infringed' would be monumental to sort through logs which would be huge for an isp could take quite a bit of time to link to a particular customer. An example is time warner (my isp) which has stated that they can only process 6 claims a month when asked by the mafia middle men of mpaa or riaa.
The risk is negligible at best, defeat able through legal means. Also two separate cases involving a movie and a porno suit were thrown out when the mpaa did bulk john does this year
posted by handbanana at 1:33 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll throw in another one for "don't download movies that are still in theaters." I only did that once, and got a computer-destroying virus for my troubles. Lesson learned. So, always check user comments on torrent sites to make sure things are legit (and frequently people will also warn if it's being copyright tracked.)
posted by whitneyarner at 2:04 PM on January 21, 2011


torrific
I use this to do direct downloads of legal distributions like Linux. It's a 3'rt party site for P2P downloads.
posted by WizKid at 2:27 PM on January 21, 2011


Which makes you roughly 7 times as likely to be murdered than sued for a copyright violation.

As I recall, until they were told they couldn't do it mid-last year, the folks filing John Doe suits were filing a single suit naming hundreds or thousands of suspected copyright violators. So 2200 suits could represent close to a million potential litigants.

If we use a more vague definition of "risk" it doesn't have to rise to the level of a lawsuit. A DMCA takedown notice will likely result in your provider simply turning off your pipe, which is a serious pain in the ass for several days.

The one time it happened to me was back in 2003 and over an episode of a Showtime series. Comcast was unimpressed by my position that since I was paying for Showtime anyway this represented no moral failing on my part. The person on the phone was rude and quite put out that I was unwilling to apologize to her personally for the offense. However they turned the pipe back on and I went on my (more cautious) way.

I've not had an issue since, though that could also be my subsequent policy of not downloading tv that isn't broadcast or basic cable. Legally there's no difference but my unscientific observation is that the studios aren't interested in investing time/money in going after that segment of the file sharing population. Perhaps I'm wrong or that will change.

I've since also used some form of IP blacklist though I'm with burnmp3s in questioning whether it's worth a damn. But it costs nothing so what the hell. I also only get stuff from a semi-private tracker source. I can't imagine it couldn't be compromised; I'm sure it is. But again, no major loss.
posted by phearlez at 3:10 PM on January 21, 2011


A few years ago I was contacted by my ISP on behalf of HBO about a show I had BT'd. At the time I was paying for HBO through my satellite service so I didn't think it was a big deal. By the time I got the contact (a couple of days later) I had already viewed the file and deleted it so I felt okay telling my ISP that I wasn't (blink, blink, blink) sure what file they were talking about because I had no such file.

A DMCA takedown notice will likely result in your provider simply turning off your pipe, which is a serious pain in the ass for several days.

My ISP told me, in so many words, that if I didn't get rid of the file they'd reach out and get rid of it for me. I've always wondered about that. I know it's technically possible but is it legal for my ISP to be grabbing files on my personal computer without my permission? How do I know they're not doing that now?
posted by fuse theorem at 4:39 PM on January 21, 2011


The golden rule: avoid new releases. The torrentscape is infinitely vast. It's not vital that you see awful, silhouette-filled camjobs of last week's major Hollywood movies, nor listen to shitty .wma rips of some pop starlet's recent album. If instead you choose to pursue cultural trappings outside of the hyper-mainstream, rest assured it will never enter anybody's interests to give a crap what you're downloading.

Get to grips with public trackers via btjunkie.com, isohunt.com, etc., seed well and eventually you will find your way into the pristine, bountiful lands of the private communities.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:14 PM on January 21, 2011


Incidentally, yes, I have encountered a virus from torrenting, which reminds me of the platinum rule: never download weird little programs on a whim because you'd like to install a visual thesaurus on your computer. Weird little programs, believe it or not, are sometime bad.

This has only happened once in 8 years of torrenting, and was an abject idiocy on par with replying to a Nigerian 419 email. Live and learn.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:19 PM on January 21, 2011


As an anecdote, I got busted on my campus network for downloading wii games from a private tracker (or rather, semi-private; demonoid, to be specific). I actually owned (most) of them already, but had forgotten the discs at home. It's ironic that I got caught for those, because I already owned them, and I download things I don't own all the time.

People seem to be recommending staying away from new releases, but that's mostly what I download, especially television, and that's never come back to bit me, yet.

I have a seedbox, because shortly after I got caught torrenting those games they shut down bittorrent for the whole campus. It's about 5$ a month, and I can only download 10GB / three torrents at a time, and then once they're downloaded to the box I have to download them again to my computer. It's not super convenient, but it's not so bad. Better than not torrenting at all.

But, you know, if I were you I'd go for it. There's a tiny, tiny chance of getting in any real trouble, and if you get caught you can buy a seedbox or switch ISPs.
posted by Rinku at 10:57 PM on January 21, 2011


After being caught last year for torrenting something copyrighted (how was I supposed to know!?) I began using a VPN service.

For relatively little money they provide you access to their server. When someone logs the uploaders of a torrent the VPN service's IP shows up, not your own. When you choose a service located outside your own country you can be quite sure that no one will go through the hassle of finding out who was using that address.
posted by kasparhauser at 3:20 AM on January 22, 2011


handbanana: Seems like a thorough strategy. You might want to add the following component: don't post your strategy on a public website.

jsturgill: the statute of limitations for copyright infringement is essentially 3 years.
posted by pollex at 7:56 AM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Log files from an ISP are usually only kept 6 months to a year (according to an isp source I've spoken with @ Verizon) on top of that one must consider copyright infringement is a civil suit, not a criminal.

Could change at any time without notice.

An example is time warner (my isp) which has stated that they can only process 6 claims a month when asked by the mafia middle men of mpaa or riaa.
The risk is negligible at best, defeat able through legal means. Also two separate cases involving a movie and a porno suit were thrown out when the mpaa did bulk john does this year


Could also change at any time, if a court decides they need to cough up more than 6 per month.

As an aside, hurray for Time Warner's self interest and bottom line aligning with the little guy for once. That doesn't mean that they might not investigate, compile a list of infringing IP addresses, and search their own log files to find people who have pirated a Warner Brothers film. At any moment, with no notice. I don't imagine you'd need a court order if you keep it in house. You just need an executive to think it makes monetary sense, and an insanely broad ToS.

the statute of limitations for copyright infringement is essentially 3 years.

That's a long time. Or, maybe it's not a long time. Everyone's sensitivity to risk is different. I think the digital trail has the potential to last an extremely long time, at least through the statute of limitations, and the potential damages you might incur are unknown. I have zero faith in our judicial or political systems protecting anything but the profits of large corporations. Putting it all together, it seems so not worth it. Particularly, as people are mentioning, for new releases.
posted by jsturgill at 3:48 PM on January 22, 2011


i usually download a movie to watch it, then delete it. i don't make copies or burn to discs.
what is the likelyhood i'll be charged with a crime in the us?
usually i'll download pretty old / obscure movies, recently i downloaded 127 hours... kinda concerned that i'll get one of those letters that says i'm being sued by some movie studio like a friend of mine was...
whaddya think?
posted by excitableintrovert at 7:35 PM on January 26, 2011


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