What is a BitTorrent?

More than a third of German online data traffic takes place via the BitTorrent protocol. Dubious websites use it to illegally distribute protected content, getting their users into trouble.

As a rule, only two parties are involved in an ordinary Internet download. For example, if a user wants to download an e-mail attachment, the server responsible sends the respective files directly to the target computer. File transfers based on the so-called BitTorrent protocol take place according to a completely different principle.

In order to receive a file via BitTorrent, special software must be installed. Just as different browsers can be used to receive ordinary web pages (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, etc.), different BitTorrent clients exist for torrent downloads. When downloading with these programs, requested files from a network of countless other computers are collected bit by bit and finally connected to a whole.

Even during the download process, the computer itself becomes part of the so-called peer-to-peer network and distributes the data to other members of the network.

Dubious websites often rely on BitTorrent

In practice, Internet users often come into contact with BitTorrent offers when they are looking for free offers for films, series or music, for example. A number of dubious websites advertise with free downloads of content for which you have to pay elsewhere. The portals provide links to the BitTorrent network in the form of files of a few kilobytes in size. If you open these so-called torrent files, the upload and download process starts via the installed client.

Very few Internet users know what kind of risk they run when using such downloads

  • Because an essential prerequisite for the functionality of a peer-to-peer network is mutual transparency. Each member of the network can see which computer under which IP address is involved in the distribution of certain data.
  • If, for example, an inexperienced user downloads a current Hollywood film, he simultaneously distributes the data to the public during the download and makes illegal copies of the content in front of everyone’s eyes in accordance with German copyright law. Representatives of the industry also know this.
  • Popular torrent files are often monitored by special law firms, which can obtain the identity of the responsible subscriber by court order.

In the rarest cases such a case ends up in court in Germany

Anyway, ordinary downloaders do not have to fear criminal consequences. However, the lawyers generally demand payment of damages and the signing of a cease-and-desist declaration. If you are the recipient of such a letter, the only way to ensure absolute security is to go to the lawyer. Because the claims of the industry are not always actually justified.

The safest way to protect yourself from expensive claims is of course to avoid torrents, the content of which is obviously distributed without the author’s permission. By using concealment tactics such as proxies or virtual personal networks (VPN), your own IP address can be protected from unauthorized access when connecting to the BitTorrent network. However, the distribution of illegal copies is of course still a violation of the law. Special care should be taken with questionable streaming software such as Popcorn Time. At first glance, this software looks like a clear media player. Under the hood, however, is nothing more than an ordinary BitTorrent client which, when receiving a film, publicly transmits data and thus endangers the user.

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