Let’s preface this by stating, unequivocally, that there are thousands of legitimate reasons to download a torrent.

Have you ever downloaded a movie online? An album? Just a song? Was it through a source like iTunes, where you paid a fee for the download? How about a site like PopcornFlix, that has loads of free content? Or was it perhaps through a torrent website, such as PirateBay?

If you’ve ever participated in torrenting a file, whether it’s a movie, TV show, album, song, software product, or any other digital work, then you could receive a DMCA notice from the owner of the material—often a big Hollywood studio—threatening legal action.

How can you stop them from finding you? TurnOnVPN reveals the insider knowledge you need to protect yourself.

What is a DMCA notice?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States law in existence since 1998. The Act itself was brought about to protect against copyright infringements online.

The key take away from the act, as it applies to the average guy or gal on the street, is that it makes distribution or sharing of copyrighted content without permission an illegal activity—one that can be prosecuted by law.

How torrenting works

Torrenting is a distributed, peer to peer (P2P) system, which allows multiple different users (a torrent swarm) to upload and download a file at the same time. The file is then shared directly between multiple users at once.

To join a torrent swarm, which will start the download, a user loads a .torrent file into their chosen torrenting program, such as BitTorrent. The program then connects to a torrent tracker, which contains a list of all the other users who are currently downloading and uploading the given file—info which allows you to connect the swarm. The file is downloaded in pieces (not in order), and once you have a piece, you share it with other users who don’t already have that piece.

Users that have the completed file are seeds, whereas users who don’t yet have all the pieces (or download without sharing) are leechers.

Torrent trackers, such as the Leechers Paradise, are what’s known as public trackers. These are servers which keep up-to-date lists of who’s seeding and leeching a file, and which pieces each user has. Anyone can connect to this tracker.

How lawyers trace torrent users

By the nature of torrent trackers, with just some lines of code, you can determine the users (seeds) of any given file, at any given time—a process known as torrent swarm tracking or data mining. This user information is often stored indefinitely.

What this all means for you is that anyone with enough wherewithal can see and store your IP address if you’ve ever shared a torrent file. In fact, your IP address, linked to BitTorrent traffic from years ago, could still be stored in a computer system somewhere.

How do they know who is interested in downloading such content?

By browsing through torrent sites and their comment and forum sections, it’s easy to see what people download.

Big studios are known to store the IP addresses of people who download their works and will hunt repeat-offenders. They also often deliberately seed their material to attract users to the torrent swarm—a tactic known as a honeypot.

What happens to torrenters that get caught

If you’ve been caught torrenting a particular file, you’ll receive a letter in the mail from your ISP, on behalf of the copyright holder, indicating the infringement under the DMCA.

The copyright holder can identify your ISP from your IP download history and demand your ISP reveals which customer the IP address belongs to (i.e., you).

This letter may threaten litigation on behalf of the copyright holder unless you satisfy some conditions, such as the following:

  • Stop sharing a particular file or files
  • Delete the file or files from your system
  • Settle for a fee instead of them pursuing the matter in court

Your ISP will also likely indicate they’ll terminate your internet service if you don’t comply with the letter.

For more information about what happens when you get caught, visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Hide your IP address and you won’t be traced

Your IP address identifies you but a VPN service will disguise you.

A VPN (or Virtual Private Network) service tunnels all your incoming and outgoing internet traffic through a machine, or server, with an encrypted connection. The conventional configuration, without a VPN, is that your inbound and outbound traffic is unencrypted (therefore viewable by anyone).

When you use a VPN, your traffic is encrypted over the link between you and your ISP, and then from your ISP to the VPN, meaning your ISP just sees a random string of gibberish. Rather than tracing a torrent file to your ISP (and thus you), the copyright holder will now only be able to determine the torrent to your VPN IP.

But won’t the VPN provider just identify you to the copyright holder, you say? This is not the case for many VPN services.

  • VPN services that don’t keep IP traffic logs will be unable to identify where the traffic originated from
  • VPN services that operate in countries that don’t recognize the DCMA have no obligation to pay attention to the notice
  • If you use Tor to sign up for a VPN and pay anonymously, via BitCoin, a VPN has no way of knowing who you are

If you’re serious about protecting your privacy online and enjoy torrenting content, then a VPN is essential to avoid receiving DMCA notices.

You must use your VPN to connect to torrenting websites, as well as torrent software, to ensure that your search and torrent traffic is hidden.