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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Torrenting And Politics: When Users Battle Jail Terms To Lawsuits

Pitched to be one of the biggest adversaries for entertainment companies and governments alike, torrenting has birthed new laws and caught more users into legal hassles after governments enforced tighter regulations and scrutiny.

Torrenting enables peer-to-peer sharing of files where users don’t have to rely on the direct source but instead can tap into content used by other users. Technically, each of the user will then act as a mini-server, which will free network space and ease the file transfer process.

Torrenting has gained significant traction over recent years, with BitTorrent, a content distribution platform, generating over a million users every day. The biggest benefit users gain from using Torrents is the ability to get nearly everything – be it movies, books, software products, songs, games, etc – completely free of cost. Besides, if connectivity issues hit the network, managing downloads through torrent websites is far easier and quicker.

Torrenting is largely safe and the risk lies with the files that the user chooses to download. While these perks largely benefit users, the availability of free content steals a significant chunk of earnings from the product’s maker. Most often, it also infringes on copyright laws.

For decades, governments have been battling piracy and the rise of torrenting only seeks to promote online piracy. One of the more popular file-sharing website, Kickass Torrents (KAT), had its alleged owner, Artem Vaulin, arrested and sent to jail after law enforcement apprehended him at a local airport in Poland. The United States is seeking his extradition.  Governments across the globe were quick to shut the website down and issued takedown notices to other websites hosting similar pirated content.

Authorities also actively engage Google in an attempt to remove links or search results that display pirated content. What’s more, government bodies tie up with agencies to crawl through the internet for individual pages that enable access to pirated content and other fly-by-night websites that list pirated videos for streaming. A month ago, Google was asked to take down 350,000 torrent URLs.

The fight against piracy does not stop here. An increasing number of people tap into cinemas to create pirated content. With a camcorder in hand, they physically record the movie – sometimes before the movie’s official release date.

One of the more important ways to track someone who uses torrents is by tracing their IP address and details of the internet service provider (ISP). With better technology comes tools to counter this as well. Users are increasingly relying on virtual private networks (VPNs) to mask their actual location. VPNs redirect your traffic and hide your location through means of a virtual IP address. Better yet, it also encrypts the data transmitted, making it nearly impossible or twice as hard for another person to decipher what is being downloaded.

Despite attempts at navigating the complex web of online free content safely and legally, a string of lawsuits – over 1000, if we look at the numbers – were filed against users in the United States last year. The sheer volume, while considering just one geographical zone, is significantly high. Granted, free content is a huge benefit to many, but lawsuits can cost multiple years and huge fines – a signal from authorities that the true cost of streaming is much higher.

Interestingly, most owners of torrent websites claim that they did not perceive it to be a criminal act. Many saw it as a one-time hobby that was kickstarted out of their bedroom, with the mindset of doing something of fun. However, torrenting has now spiralled into a full-blown legal battle between the movie industry, the government and the alleged criminals.

What many believe is that torrenting is here to stay. Despite the many hiccups and stringent measures adopted by the government, combating privacy is not going to have a winner, at least not in the coming years. It will continue to thrive as long as there is demand, unless services are made more economical or cheaper to users.

Many users have also benefited from the rise of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, both of which offer a large array of video content to choose from, along with their large library of in-house fresh content. Apart from plans that start at just about $10 per month, streaming services are also providing users with the one thing that torrent websites have not been able to – convenience.

Torrenting does come with its perks for many across the globe – it has unlocked exposure for those looking for a quick way to get noticed in the increasingly crowded online content space. A popular example is the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, that aired around the late 80’s but saw its continuation since fans had taped the episodes and shared it, which ultimately led to the show’s revival three years ago as one of the biggest crowdfunded projects online.

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