What is a Torrent? Is BitTorrent Legal?

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MadMike wrote in to ask what exactly a Torrent file is, and whether or not they are legal. He also is wondering how you can tell if something IS illegal or not.

A Torrent file isn’t really a file to download, rather it’s a link pointing to where you can download a file from. Torrenting Torrent is a method of distributing large amounts of data widely without the original distributor incurring the entire costs of hardware, hosting and bandwidth resources. Instead, when data is distributed using the Torrent protocol, each recipient supplies pieces of the data to newer recipients, reducing the cost and burden on any given individual source, providing redundancy against system problems, and reducing dependence on the original distributor.

Now, let’s get into the legalities of Torrenting files. I personally use Torrents to download my Linux distros. By downloading them this way, I get them much faster. It saves the companies hosting dollars. Instead of having to supply hosting for the different distros, the developers can simply put them up on a Torrent, and share them that way. That is perfectly legal. Also, downloading different Virtual Machines for VMWare is legal.

The way you get into illegalities, is when you download something that is being distributed without owner permission. This covers most music, film and programs for a computer. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, such as with Indie music or films. They want their stuff circulated, to bring attention to it. For the most part, though, artists and companies do not agree for you to obtain their material without paying for it.

One other thing to remember is that any P2P type file sharing program can cause you to get malware on your computer. Many files that are available for download have attached viruses, trojans, spam, and the like. Simply downloading the seemingly harmless file and trying to “play” it in your favorite media player can quickly infect your machine.

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