Dear Lifehacker, I'm what the guys at Village Roadshow would refer to as a filthy pirate. I sail the digital seas seizing movies and TV shows with total impunity (well, so far anyway). I do this not because of unfair pricing or unavailable content — I just like free stuff. So my question is, what kind of evidence do BitTorrents sites leave behind? Has the fact I've never received a letter mean I'm safe, I should I prepare to walk the plank? Thanks, Captain Gingerbeard.
Kudos for telling it like it is. Most advocates of online piracy parade a litany of excuses around in an attempt to justify their questionable behavior. You might be a "filthy pirate" but at least you're an honest one. (Well, apart from the whole not-paying-for-movies thing.)
As the Dallas Buyers Club decision amply proved, rights holders are getting tired of waiting for Australia to update its copyright laws. Instead, they are starting to go after individuals on a case-by-case basis.
These companies consider online piracy to be theft — and they really want to punish you for it as a deterrent to others. Meanwhile, Australian ISPs are finalising an industry-wide copyright notice scheme that will see them introduce tougher measures on suspected copyright infringers. In short; the age of piracy is about to enter a bright or dark chapter (depending on which side of the ship you're standing on).
From a user perspective, the problem with sites like The Pirate Bay is that everything is out in the open — when you download or seed a torrent, you're connecting to a bunch of other users, called a "swarm". All of those people can see each other's IP addresses — they have to in order to connect.
So what kind of evidence does your online swashbuckling leave behind? As luck would have it, we recently published an in-depth article on this topic by Robert Merkel, a software engineer and lecturer at Monash University. Here's what Merkel had to say:
Identifying the IP addresses of the members of a BitTorrent swarm is extremely simple. When a new client connects to the swarm, the IP addresses of the members of the swarm are transferred to the client, and existing clients are updated as new clients enter or leave. Therefore, if an organisation wishes to identify those participating in trading a particular infringing file, they merely need to write a modified BitTorrent client that connects to the relevant swarm and records the list of participants.
Yikes. If you want to mask your tracks or make prosecution trickier, we'd advise using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). These provide an encrypted “tunnel” between an Australian computer and a proxy in a country with a less conducive legal framework for copyright infringements.
The end result works something like this:
Of course, signing up for a VPN provider can cause its own problems; especially if you go for a cheap foreign one. You should never assume that a foreign VPN provider is as committed to privacy or subject to the same laws as the ones that operate locally. Some VPNs happily log your data and will turn it over to anyone who asks which means you're basically in the same boat as before.
Be sure to check out our guide to picking the best VPN in Australia, along with this list of our five favourite VPN providers. This guide to anonymising your BitTorrent traffic is also worth a look. Needless to say, we aren't advocating your actions here and anything that happens is completely on you.
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