How to use BitTorrent without getting caught
April 4, 2006 9:18 AM   Subscribe

What are the chances of actually getting caught using a P2P file sharing program such as BitTorrent to download pirated stuff? Is there more likelihood of getting into hot water depending on what you are downloading (i.e. movies,TV shows, music..)? Can anyone suggest a method of using BitTorrent that will avoid these problems?
posted by curiocity to Technology (21 answers total)
Generally pretty low. I have no statistics but I know several hundred people who use P2P and only one of them has ever been C&D'd or anything. So I guess that makes it pretty unlikely overall.

If you want to take measures to prevent the evil/good guys watching you and getting into trouble then there are block lists which either your client, firewall or some other piece of software can use to block them from connecting to you.

The ones I used to use can be found here. It's pretty complete and is updated regularly, it can be a bit too keen at times if you use the complete set, but it's generally good and should help keep your P2P activities somewhat more hidden.

There is a plugin for Azureus which will help you out with blocklists.
posted by public at 9:29 AM on April 4, 2006

As far as content is concerned, my "friend" was sent a nasty letter about his P2P usage because he was sharing movies which Paramount own rights to. I don't think software companies are as big into the software scanning as the music and video industries are but I could be imagining that.

If you do get caught, you are almost guaranteed not to suddenly get a letter asking you to appear in court. You will probably get at least 1 letter asking you to stop it and start being a good person first.
posted by public at 9:31 AM on April 4, 2006

Client-level blocklists are essentially worthless, since they can still get the list of peers from the tracker without talking to the client at all.

The only real safety is in private trackers that are actually private.
posted by smackfu at 9:32 AM on April 4, 2006

Can anyone suggest a method of using BitTorrent that will avoid these problems?

Don't download pirated stuff?

At least not new release movies. Those are the ones that are being monitored most often.
posted by empath at 9:33 AM on April 4, 2006

I know nothing about anonymous ways of using bittorrent. I don't think this is an entirely appropriate place to ask such things. Try the forums on a tracker site.

However, I will supply an anecdote: my old university here in the UK used to regularly get gently threatening letters and emails from US TV companies and film distributors listing IP numbers that had been using bittorrent to download particular files. It was all recent material: the pilot of American Dad caused one such letter. So they know what you're downloading and they know where you are.

The University was obviously extremely proactive in shutting this stuff down, as it's responsible for the behaviour of its users to some extent.
posted by godawful at 9:34 AM on April 4, 2006

Client-level blocklists are essentially worthless, since they can still get the list of peers from the tracker without talking to the client at all.

Oh yes I'd forgotten about BitTorrents complete and utter lack of privacy about what you were sharing. Just as well I don't use public trackers anymore.

So who's going to start offering invites first? ;)
posted by public at 9:36 AM on April 4, 2006

Do it from a box sitting in Sweden. Or basically anywhere outside of the US. ;)
posted by drstein at 9:50 AM on April 4, 2006

You can avoid litigation by not breaking any content laws such as downloading pirated software and media.
posted by parallax7d at 10:01 AM on April 4, 2006

Read about the history of actual lawsuits or check out responses like the ones already posted here for feedback on what's resulted in a threatening letter. The real answer is that no one knows what will or will not result in legal trouble because there could be an investigation currently underway that only the copyright holder knows about.

That said, people have done a lot to attempt to minimize risk like only downloading television shows they believe they can legally time-shift, downloading from invite-only torrent sites, using torrent sites that require a login, using only slsk, downloading only from a shared connection and not your own home, routing traffic through a proxy, leeching but not sharing, avoiding prerelease material, and avoiding major label music or movies. That's in addition to technology-based solution like blacklisting.
posted by mikeh at 10:07 AM on April 4, 2006

You can use an Anonymous proxy. Though it will limit your bandwidth. Slyck had an article calculating the exact odds of getting caught a few months ago but I can't find it. The safest approach to downloading is still as it has always been, Usenet, as short of the server, which typically does not have logs, no one knows you are downloading.
posted by blueyellow at 10:25 AM on April 4, 2006

If you do get caught, you are almost guaranteed not to suddenly get a letter asking you to appear in court. You will probably get at least 1 letter asking you to stop it and start being a good person first.

However, if you are on a university campus, you need to think not just about lawsuits but about university judicial action. If the university receives notification you're downloading pirated content (such as a C&D letter), that could be enough to get you into some very inconvenient hot water, and you shouldn't expect any warning or kind requests to stop. None of my friends have been "busted," but a few friends of friends have.

There's also always a tiny chance that you'll be one of the ones the MPAA/RIAA decides to make an example of by drowning you in a sea of lawyers.

There may be ways to reduce your exposure to possible consequences of your arrrrghh piratical actions (and others may be willing/able to help with that), but realize that you can never completely eliminate the possiblity of problems.
posted by musicinmybrain at 10:26 AM on April 4, 2006

About a year ago, Slyck crunched the numbers and found that you're much more likely to in a transportation-related accident this year than you are to be sued by the RIAA.
posted by gd779 at 10:33 AM on April 4, 2006

That should read, "much more likely to die in a transportation-related accident", by the way.
posted by gd779 at 10:34 AM on April 4, 2006

Bit torrent is not designed to anonymous at all, it was meant for sharing files legally.

But millions of people use it and other P2P programs, and only a few thousand have been sued (mostly randomly)
posted by delmoi at 10:52 AM on April 4, 2006

uTorrent and a couple of other torrent clients support encrypted transmissions.

You also don't have to use the default bittorrent port; in fact, some trackers won't let your client connect if you do attempt to use it.

Using it like this won't be anonymous, but it won't be possible to decode your transmissions, so you can claim anything you like.

There was a mildly entertaining segment on the BBC's Newsnight programme where they talked about the security services' worry that all this encryption was going to make it harder for them to find the encrypted stuff they were actually interested in. Why does corporate Hollywood hate [insert country of choice]?
posted by lowlife at 12:36 PM on April 4, 2006

The encryption in clients like utorrent and azureus is about evading traffic shaping. It won't do squat to protect you from infringement notices. The analogy is that using https does not make your site secret (as anyone can still view it) but it makes it so that no third party can read your individual session. Likewise, anybody can just fire up a client and connect to you and prove that you were infringing copyright, but automated traffic shapers cannot tell the contents of your packets (as they are a third party to the conversation.)
posted by Rhomboid at 1:47 PM on April 4, 2006

Stay on private trackers. Don't download major-studio movies from public trackers. Most especially don't upload major-studio movies to public trackers.

It's just like doing anything else that's technically illegal. Just be smart about it.

As mentioned, Bittorrent itself gives absolutely no guarantee of privacy. If the studios want to figure out who's downloading that hot new DVD-rip of The Chronicles of Narnia, they can just search for the appropriate torrents like any downloader and query the trackers. The trackers will happily divulge the IP addresses of people sharing/downloading the torrent (as this is necessary for the torrent to work!), and from there it's just a matter of finding out where the IP addresses are.
posted by neckro23 at 2:06 PM on April 4, 2006

A FOAF downloaded a DMB album on BT, and PSU forwarded a C&D from the RIAA.

In other words, yeah, it can happen. It doesn't happen a lot, though, as others said, and also I like acronyms.
posted by danb at 2:13 PM on April 4, 2006

Usenet is your friend.
posted by Optamystic at 4:31 PM on April 4, 2006

I'm impressed. The dumbasses who posted the "don't steal stuff" non-answers have (so far) been quietly ignored by the smartasses who usually waste their time explaining how downloading isn't really theft, etc. Maybe if we continue to ignore the dumbasses, they'll just go away. Or run for Congress.

Other than that, I'm not so sure that you'd get a C&D warning first. All the anecdotal little old ladies who don't even own computers have been dragged out of their houses by the FBI in the middle of the night.

I figure if you don't upload, you probably won't even be noticed. Others have said to avoid the new things, but despite the BitTorrent potential, I've had pretty poor luck finding stable feeds for anything but. Ask a teenager what he's using instead of Kazaa/eMule/Limewire this week, and go from there.
posted by phrits at 6:16 PM on April 4, 2006

I third usenet.

Anonymity is impossible with Bittorrent - just enter netstat -a in Windows the next time you're downloading something to see a list of every single person you're connected to. The only way to hide your real IP is to go through a proxy, and I can't find proxies that support the BT protocol.
posted by exhilaration at 10:33 AM on April 5, 2006

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