If you’re a big fan torrenting, you’ve landed in the right place, as today’s article will answer a fundamental question: is torrenting illegal in USA? The “torrenting issue” can be described summarily in three simple questions: is it legal? Is it safe? And if the answer to the first question is “no,” then what happens if you get caught? Let’s begin with the most important question, the one about legality, and we’ll work it out from there.
The legal status of torrenting in USA
TL;DR: It’s legal.
However, there’s a caveat to that: it all depends on what you’re downloading.
As is the case with many things in life, when we’re talking about torrenting in the USA, we’re dealing with a multi-faceted issue, i.e. this question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. To make it real simple, if you download copyrighted material, you’re breaking the law.
And before you ask, torrenting is not the equivalent of piracy. Here’s the deal: the torrent protocol is just a technology developed to help people download content more easily. It’s the nature of the respective content that makes torrenting illegal or not. And US law discriminates between downloading copyrighted and non-copyrighted material.
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Torrenting in the US
Despite what some may think, torrenting in the USA is still very popular. Moreover, the USA leads the world in this regard, with almost 28 billion visits to torrent sites/download portals/ streaming sites as per 2018 data. While most people (53 percent of these visits) go to streaming sites like Spotify and Neflix, there are still tens of millions of people who use torrenting clients to illegally download movies, TV series (read Game of Thrones, the most pirated TV Series in 2016), music or books.
Speaking of demographics, young adults tend to use torrenting clients the most, and we’re referring to people between 18 and 29 years of age. According to statistical data, more than half of this demographic have downloaded content using torrents. Internet users between 30 and 49 years of age are also known for downloading content via torrents on a regular basis, with 27 percent or more reporting that they’ve downloaded copyrighted content. Only 12 percent of Americans over 50 have reported downloading files via torrenting.
Students are more likely to download content from the internet than non-students, as downloading behavior is associated with both education level and household income in the United States, i.e. people who earn less tend to download more illegal content.
It’s also worth mentioning that most people use torrenting to download movies and TV shows/series (approximately 24 percent of US consumers), along with music (35 percent of US consumers) and books (at least 16.5 million people in the US downloaded books in 2017).
Legal documents defining the use of torrent sites/files
If you want to gain a better understanding of the issue, you must learn about the legalese that defines the use of torrent sites and/or files in North America. In the USA, we have the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, a federal law passed back in 2005, which consists of two sections: the Artist’s Rights and Theft Prevention Act and the Family Home Movie Act.
The former section increases penalties for copyright infringement on both software and movies. There’s also the Music Modernization Act 2018, which regulates copyright issues for audio recordings/music with regard to digital streaming and things of that nature. Older federal laws include DMCA and CTEA from 1998, and also the No Electronic Theft Act (1994), which allow for criminal prosecution of individuals who engage in copyright infringement under certain circumstances.
Legal consequences of torrenting of copyrighted material in USA
If you’re caught torrenting copyrighted material in the USA, you may face jail time (worst case scenario), or house arrest and fines. For example, after the FBI shut down the hugely popular BitTorrent website EliteTorrents.org back in 2005, the site administrators pleaded guilty to charges of criminal conspiracy, and some defendants received jail sentences (5 months jail time + 3 year probation), home arrest or fines ($3000-$15,000). More recently, users caught downloading music illegally were sued by the Recording Industry Association of America and forced to pay approximately $750 for each individual song downloaded.
In the case of Virgin Records America, Inc v. Thomas-Rasset, the accused was tried before a jury and ordered to pay $220,000 for 24 songs she made available for free to the general public.
Torrenting-related lawsuit statistics in USA
This topic is very important for torrent-freaks, because the number of internet-piracy/copyright-related lawsuits is on the rise. Most copyright infringement cases in the USA are dominated by 2 relatively unknown companies, Strike 3 Holdings (what’s in a name, right?) and Malibu Media.
Just in the first half of 2018, these two companies overloaded the US courts with over 1,700 separate file-sharing related lawsuits. There were a little over 6,000 file-sharing related cases in total in 2018 according to Justitia.
Basically, their business model centers upon threat, as most cases are litigated out of court. Taking cases to trial, other than a few publicized examples, is far too risky in terms of likely financial return. Over the latter decade, the number of illegal file sharing cases seems to have remained relatively constant.
How to torrent safely in USA
Now comes the fun part, as we’ll teach how to torrent safely and anonymously in the USA. Provided you already have a BitTorrent client installed on your machine, here’s a short step-by-step tutorial:
Step 1: Choose the best VPN for torrenting and download/install the software on your computer by following the instructions.
Step 2: Choose a P2P server (keep in mind that the best VPN providers offer dedicated servers for torrenting) and connect to it.
Step 3: Check to see if your real IP address is hidden before starting torrenting. Click here to see your real IP address, then check it again with the VPN service started and see if it changes.
Step 4: When the VPN connection is established and your real IP address is changed, you can safely start torrenting.
Best VPN for torrenting in USA
Arguably, the best all-around VPN service provider for torrenting in USA is ExpressVPN. Why? It’s really simple: first, ExpressVPN has over 3,000 servers in 94 countries, which means you’ll benefit from blazing-fast download speeds anywhere in the world.
On top of that, ExpressVPN has a strict zero-logs policy, and offers unlimited bandwidth and support for P2P on all of its servers. But it gets even better: the company is based in the British Virgin Islands, which is a privacy paradise with no data retention laws to speak of. All these features make ExpressVPN the best choice for torrenting in the USA.