Is Torrenting Illegal? How to File Share Safely

Michael Gargiulo
4 min readFeb 20, 2020
Hand pressing a virtual download button to initiate a torrent protected by a VPN.

Torrenting has its fair share of critics who claim that it encourages illegal file sharing and intellectual property infringement. Proponents point to its use in distributing large numbers of files effectively, regardless of what they contain. Nevertheless, torrenting is not illegal in and of itself, but for those who want to torrent safely, using a VPN is a wise choice.

How Common are Torrents?

First, a little context. According to Sandvine’s 2018 Global Internet Phenomena Report, torrents are the most common cause of upstream traffic in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Torrents are the second-most common cause of upstream traffic in the Americas. Upstream traffic refers to the traffic sent from computers to other people, as opposed to downloads from a server.

BitTorrent is the most popular torrent program by a substantial margin — it accounts for 22% of total upstream volume worldwide.

Interestingly enough, Netflix accounts for 5.13% of all upstream volume due to the way it operates.

What Percentage of Torrents are Legal?

A 2010 study by Sauhard Sahi at the University of Princeton indicated that around 99% of files on BitTorrent are likely to be infringing on intellectual property. While this only refers to BitTorrent and there are limitations regarding that study, it shouldn’t be a major surprise. There’s a reason why major media companies track IP addresses on commonly seeded torrents.

And BitTorrent does not encrypt its IP addresses. This creates significant problems for those who wish to download files anonymously, as it’s relatively trivial to track an IP address and link it to an account. In addition, if an ISP sees you have multiple upstream and downstream connections linked to widely varying places, it would be reasonable for it to assume that you are torrenting.

An alternative method of tracking is to monitor groups of torrents. They then just simply list down all the IP addresses connected to various popular torrents to see if any of them are owned by that ISP.

In some cases, account holders have been sued by media conglomerates wishing to protect their intellectual property. This process is slowly being pushed back on by some courts, as they rightly state that you cannot identify an individual solely by their IP address. However, it still requires time and effort to fight back, and you may not get the results you want.

Secure Your IP Address With a VPN

The simplest way to avoid issues from torrenting is to not torrent at all. That is impractical, however, for many.

A VPN offers a way to download torrents safely. There are numerous options, and some of them are free. While the free ones are the most cost-effective — obviously — they typically do not have the same level of speed and security options that most paid-for VPNs have.

Essentially, a VPN replaces your IP address with its own, so all your connections are coming through a single server. To your ISP, all they see is a single connection, and a media company looking to capture IP addresses will only see the IP address of the server. Essentially, a VPN offers a substantial increase in anonymity so you can torrent safely.

To install a VPN on a compatible computer, all you have to do is the following:

  • Pick your preferred provider, making sure it offers the features you need
  • Pay, install and log in
  • Start the VPN
  • Start torrenting

Of course, the first point is particularly important. Not all VPNs offer the same features, and some are incompatible with certain devices. If you enjoy torrenting, you need to look for a VPN that:

  • Allows P2P file sharing
  • Does not keep logs
  • Has reliable IP/DNS leak detection
  • Has decent download and upload speeds

The second point might seem a little odd, but some VPNs keep logs of who has used a particular service at particular times and what sort of data is going through and from where. While it’s unlikely that they would disclose these logs voluntarily, there’s always a risk of a subpoena going through that forces them to turn over those logs.

Even if you think you are downloading legal torrents, using a VPN lets you download legal torrents safely. Should you make a mistake and download the wrong file, the VPN keeps your IP address secure.

Download Torrents Safely Without Worry of Legal Consequences

Ultimately, you need to keep your IP address secure, and this is particularly the case when you torrent files. A high-quality VPN makes it easy to torrent safely, and it can also simplify gaming and provide privacy for sensitive transactions.



Michael Gargiulo

CEO at | Internet & Domain Name Expert | Forbes Council | CliffCo Leader & Host | Atlanta’s Top Tech Entrepreneur