By now most downloaders should be aware of the risks involved when filesharing via BitTorrent… after all, the clue is in the name ‘filesharing’! BitTorrent works in a decentralised way, where once a tracker is downloaded and added into your BitTorrent client, its associated files are shared among all other downloaders.
This is great because it means that files are not stored on a server somewhere, so they cannot be taken down or the people who operate the server prosecuted. What is not so great is that it means everyone who sharing a file can see the IP address of everyone else who shares the same file.
This makes it almost trivially easy for copyright holders to monitor who downloads their content, and to then take action against owners of the IP addresses responsible. The most common form of action is to serve a DMCA notice (or local equivalent) to an alleged offender’ ISPs, asking it to take action against the offender.
In many counties, ISP’s have agreed to enforce a ‘graduated response’ (three to six ‘strikes’) system to punish copyright infringement, but in the worse situations ISPs have been forced (or simply volunteered) to hand over the identities of customers whose IP addresses have been associated with pirating copyrighted content.
A particularly notable recent example of this is in Australia, where in April a landmark Federal Court ruling ordered ISP iiNet to hand over the details of some 4,700 customers accused by the owners of downloading the Oscar nominated film Dallas Buyers Club. Not only are the accused likely to be fined, but the ruling paves the way for US-style speculative invoicing.
In response to this, a team of Australian software developers has created a website aimed at warning you if the torrent you plan to download is ‘risky’.
Simply upload a torrent file or enter its Info Hash…
… and TorrentTags will issue advice on whether downloading it might get you into trouble.
TorrentTags determines if a download is ‘risky’ by checking it against a database maintained by Chilling Effects. This database lists torrents that platform providers such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have been served DMCA notices for.
TorrentTags is also asking copyright holders to submit hashes of their content, if they do not wish it be copied.
‘Rightsholders can inform torrent users about copyrighted torrents by sending claims to our database. This is likely to lead to a decrease in the number of downloads of those torrents.’
TorrentTags explains their reasoning for allowing (and even encouraging) this as,
‘We believe that copyright claims for torrents have to be made public before users’ online activity can be monitored with the goal of suing. Furthermore, we believe that without a public claim such monitoring would be equivalent to ‘honeypot’ strategies. This is because, from a user’s perspective, any torrent without a public claim is indistinguishable from a torrent created by a copyright owner with the aim of operating a ‘honeypot’.’
As a rival VPN website correctly observes, more aggressive legal firms who specialize in monetizing the prosecution of piracy (aka ‘copyright sharks’), are unlikely to register with any such scheme, as doing so would undercut their review streams by alerting potential ‘victims’ that they might get caught. After all, these companies make money by taking pirates to court (or threatening to), so the last thing they want to do is to scare them off!
A more serious flaw with the whole TorrentTags concept is… why? Downloading any copyrighted file is risky proposition, because even if sneaky copyright sharks are not deliberately trying to trap you, there is always the danger of being hit by the first wave of DMCA notices for a given file. Furthermore, if you pay attention to the warnings then the choice of content you download will be severely limited.
A far better solution is to use VPN. This hides your real IP address (so someone tracking a torrent will only see the IP address of the VPN server), and encrypts your internet connection so that even your ISP cannot see what you get up to online (such as downloading torrents!) Check out our list of 5 Best VPNs for torrents, P2P and filesharing to find some great providers that watch your back when downloading.