Ask LH: What Happens If I’m Busted For Illegal Downloads?

Ask LH: What Happens If I’m Busted For Illegal Downloads?

Hi Lifehacker, I am very worried about my ISP shutting off my internet for downloading illegal torrents. How much trouble can I get in? Can I get sued or go to jail? Thanks, Nervous Torrenter

Dear NT,

Don’t want your internet shut down for downloading torrents of copyrighted TV shows and movies? Stop downloading them. That way you’ll have nothing to worry about.

But you’re not going to take that approach, are you? So here’s the deal. We haven’t actually seen a really big “copyright bust” for individuals downloading torrents in Australia, and we don’t have a particularly consistent policy for dealing with it.

We saw an extended legal case where the movie industry wanted ISPs to be held responsible for the activities of their users, but that was repeatedly thrown out of court. We saw proposals for an industry code of conduct that might have seen repeat offenders cut off, but that hasn’t gone anywhere. And there are suggestions that the Trans Pacific Partnership might see ISPs held responsible for the conduct of their users (and the cost of internet access go up as a result), but that agreement hasn’t yet been signed.

As an individual, the most you’re likely to see is an automatically generated legal letter warning you to stop downloading torrents. If you encrypt your torrents, even that is unlikely.

With all that said, downloading copyrighted material does mean you’re breaking the law. You might well think it’s a stupid law, and argue that entertainment providers need to rejig their business model given the ease with which their materials can be shared and are shared. But the only absolutely guaranteed way not to get in trouble is to find a different way to amuse yourself.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • You can get hundreads of them and nothing could happen, it depends on who they are from. i have recieved a few and now i use a vpn to download things, its like $3 and also means i can use netflix etc.

    • ha ha!! He has existed in all of us in some small way at some point I’m sure. But battle-hardened Torrenters like myself don’t feel the heat any more; but I remember when I did.

      • A ‘friend of mine’ once had his GF email a screenshot of his download folder to one of her friends, which begat The Great Purge of ’07.

  • You will not get into trouble unless you are distributing, dont even share with your friends, or 1 day you will get a knock at the front door, when they want to make examples out of people they will not send you a warning letter….dont backup on clouds, keep your backups somewhere else. Use a proxy system….

  • This article didn’t answer anything, it literally is a complete waste of space.

    AS far as the actual law goes, the ISP must notify you if they are monitoring your usage for legal reasons, in which case if you doing anything illict you could simply use a proxy/vpn and encrypt your data and they would have no way of knowing whats being sent.

    Unless the law has been changed, it basically means you never have to worry about anything until you do.

      • Or to get more clicks on their “How To Anonymise Your BitTorrent Traffic With BTGuard” article they made sure to link in the text…

    • The issue is though that it’s not ‘the movie.’ It’s hundreds, maybe thousands of movies, a ton of them probably never touched – illegal and inethical, sure, I’m not arguing that. But when you multiply the cost of a DVD ($15, if I’m being charitable) by one hundred, that’s starting to get out of the price range of most people for entertainment. One thousand, and that’s downright impossible for normal people.

      • I’m not sure what your point is. Are you saying that because it’s expensive, it’s ok to steal them?
        And don’t get me wrong. I’m no angel when it comes to downloading but I don’t think you can justify it like that.

        • I wouldn’t say that it’s ‘okay’ to steal them. But people just will. Instead of “buy all the movies you want to see,” you’d have to say “watch less movies.”

          Having said that, Apple TV’s rent-a-movie system seems to work pretty well. It’s much cheaper and it’s instant.

  • The article is a bit vague. The question was ‘what’s the worst that can happen if I’m busted by the cops for copyright infringement?’. Not ‘how can I avoid detection’ or ‘what has happened in the past’. NT has already been busted (so avoidance is already too late) – what’s next?

    So going back to the question, what’s the worst that can happen in Australia?

  • Family members previously worked in police liaising with those lodging complaints in MPAA or whatever (very high up). Been told on numerous occasions police won’t get involved unless you’re distributing and making a profit as they have better things to do.

    That said, the film industry, for better or worse, is still reliant on people. Buy stuff if you like it!

  • Af far as I’m concerned if the content is readily available on the internet for everyone than I’m not one to complain until then I will continue downloading and if it comes down to having to encrypt everything I do then so be it.

    I’m not going to hinder my freedom out of fear, it’s 2013 adapt or die.


  • Mate of mine in Germany got a 500 euro fine in the mail for him downloading The Walking Dead torrents. He asked a lawyer friend there who said basically pay it, because the system is very much in the favour of the copyright holders there. Australian pirates get it lucky!

  • I ripped the Daft Punk album this year the day they previewed it before release. But I went and bought it on CD and 12″ when it dropped.
    I saw Gravity online before I saw it in the cinema.
    And had I seen Anchorman 2 online, I never would have bothered giving them my money at the cinema (walked out 4 hours into the park scene). While I can’t defend what I’m doing (as it is still illegal), I do it simply because I don’t like to pay for something and be disappointed.

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