The issue of piracy and copyright infringement is under discussion and regulated by severe legislation in the USA. It is not a secret that the US government keeps a strict policy on monitoring internet users’ online activity on torrent websites. Many American Internet Service Providers block or restrict access to such websites for their clients. Such ISPs, as Time Warner Cable, Comcast, AT&T, Verizon Fios and Charter Communications, keep an eye open on torrent users.
Is torrenting really illegal in the USA?
It is one of the most frequently asked questions about peer-to-peer file-sharing in different countries, including the USA. Torrenting as a technology created for sharing files is not illegal, but it is considered that within the torrenting networks copyrighted material is transferred which is really punished by law.
Is torrent file-sharing safe for users?
Before we try to answer the asked question above, consider the saying: ‘’There ain't no such thing as a free lunch’’. What do you think about it? It seems that the saying can be perfectly associated with torrents. If you think that torrenting for free is completely secure, you might be mistaken.
Peers are under risk when they download torrent content. If you doubt, here you can find some possible risky situations, when one take use of torrent trackers and clients in various countries, including the USA. Have a look at them:
The downloaded torrent files are often infected with viruses and other potentially damaging malicious programs. The file interferes into the computer system and causes undesired shutdowns or blockages.
No one is 100%-sure who actually visit torrent sites: average netizens or highly advanced hackers. As IP addresses are open to public, any malicious technician is able to crack and use them for unknown purposes.
ISPs and Copyright Trolls
Internet Service Providers, especially in the USA, and copyright trolls (nowadays they are not rare everywhere) monitor online activities of torrent users in search of copyright infringement. ISPs even restrict or block access to the most widely-used torrent trackers. (You will read about it further in details, keep on reading)
It is widely-known that ISPs and copyright trolls target the IP addresses of those users who torrent copyrighted material (either on purpose or accidentally). One may be accused of copyright infringement which is punishable by law in the USA.
Note: If you are a beginner in torrenting, you may get basic knowledge in our guide here.
How do ISPs track what you do online?
Most of the American ISPs fall back on DPI, which is Deep Packet Inspection, to monitor their users’ activity on the network, especially those who take advantage of torrent websites. The method allows them not only to trace what sites are visited, but also watch the content of the transferred packets on the net. By means of DPI they block or restrict access to the torrent trackers throttle internet connections for the netizens. Moreover, the technology is used for collecting detailed statistics of any individual internet surfer’s online activity.
Local US Internet Service Providers adhere to different policies in relation to data retention. How long the information about internet users is kept and what type of it is collected varies from ISP to ISP. Here you can observe the chart with the essential American ISPs and the terms for data retention:
|US ISP||Terms for data retention|
|Verizon FIOS||18 months|
|Century Link||It depends on the user|
|Time Warner||6 months|
As you can see from the chart the longest period of keeping users logs is at Verizon FIOS, but fortunately it is believed that they do not throttle torrent activity and are considered to neutral in concerns of torrenting. Nevertheless, they are engaged in six-strikes alert system that is why users should upload and download only legal material in order to prevent copyright violation.
What is Six Strikes Alert System? Does it still work?
The following system was created to fight with Copyright violation and obliged the ISPs to monitor the activity of torrent trackers’ users. According to ‘’Six Strikes’’, if the user is caught with sharing some illegal torrent content, six steps are taken then. Firstly, the user receives a letter that his or her IP address has been spotted in doing something illegal. If it is repeated, the next step will be another notice or a warning call from the ISP. The next level (third and fourth) seems to be more severe and implies watching an educational video before accessing a website. The final step stands for throttling the torrent traffic or URL forwarding. The info about the IPs which are suspected of copyright infringement is passed to copyright holders who decide whether to start a legal process against such internet users or not.
Update: Still, there are certain reports that the system has stopped its work.
As far as Century Link is concerned, they do not point out the exact period of data-keeping. It seems like it will depend on the netizens and their online activity. They do not forbid peer-to peer file-sharing, but they apply bandwidth techniques for throttling some torrents on the virtual space.
Another US ISP AT&T does not ban P2P sharing within its network. Still, they restrict access to the Internet for those sharing any illegal torrents. This measure is aimed at avoiding of copyright infringement.
Time Warner does not ban torrenting, nevertheless one should pay attention to the content he or she downloads. The content must be legal and copyrights mustn’t be violated.
Comcast keeps the data about its users for 6 months which is not so long in comparison with Verizon FIOS and AT&T. Nevertheless, they apply DPI technology to throttle and even block P2P sessions.
How to avoid being monitored by ISPs in the USA?
There is a certain way-out to be invisible for ISPs in the US while sharing torrents. It is connecting via Virtual Private Network.
Reasons to torrent in the USA with a VPN:
- Security and protection
- Privacy and anonymity
- Not expensive
How does it work?
It provides you with safe and anonymous connecting to the network, including popular torrent trackers. Firstly, you will be able change your true IP address and pretend to be from another location. ISPs can/t identify that it is you who perform this or that online activity. Secondly, the torrent traffic is encrypted and can’t be cracked for viewing the content of it.
You might be interested whether it is worth torrenting with free VPNs in the USA. You know that some free from charge services do not possess all useful features, and you won’t probably do your best by taking advantage of them. In particular, free VPN services are not able to provide the torrent users with complete privacy and security. The protocols applied are not as strong as paid VPNs offer. Moreover, it is believed that users logs can passed to third party agencies.
Thus, it is not as easy as you might think to torrent in the USA as torrent policies are strict enough and differ from ISP to ISP. American Internet Service Providers are obliged to keep the information about the users of their internet services for 6-18 months. Torrent users are especially concerned with throttling and blocking of torrent traffic. Still, torrenting with a decent VPN makes it real to enjoy favourite torrents in the USA.
It is prominent to know that …..
Nevertheless, one should be accurate with the material uploaded and downloaded as he or she may encounter the copyrighted content torrenting of which can lead to undesired outcomes, like warning letters from the authorities. It should be noted that we do not justify torrenting of copyrighted content.
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