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Torrent files by themselves are pretty benign. It's the files they point to that may hold copyrights and legal implications.

I just found my brother downloading some .torrent files from an obsolete torrent site. He didn't download the real files after the torrents, but just the .torrent files. I deleted these files (.torrent), but I'm worried if it will be a problem. Is downloading .torrent files illegal even if there are no further downloads using that .torrent file?

In this excerpt from Answercast #53, I look at a situation where .torrent files were downloaded, but the copyrighted material they were pointed to was not downloaded.

Are Torrent files illegal?

The short answer is: there's nothing wrong with a .torrent file itself. The .torrent file only contains pointers or information as to where the actual content will be found. It's the actual content that is usually copyright protected and illegal.

The .torrent file itself is pretty benign. Nobody's going to take legal action against you or anything like that because of it.

Torrent downloads

It's like I said - the files that it points to... the files that are downloaded by running a .torrent file (by firing up BitTorrent and downloading these large, massive movies and music collections):

  • Those are the things that cause problems.

  • Those are the things that are typically in violation of copyright;

  • And those are the things that you want to avoid.

So, again, I'm not a lawyer so this isn't a legal opinion by any stretch, but in my opinion in your situation, I wouldn't be concerned. I think catching this before the actual files were downloaded means that you're probably pretty safe.

Article C5817 - September 16, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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2 Comments
KRS
September 18, 2012 10:12 AM

IAAL. A Dutch court ruled this week that pointers to copyrighted material (nude shots of a well-known newscaster) were illegal. I think U.S. copyright holders are already preparing lawsuits on the same theory.

Gord Campbell
September 18, 2012 1:09 PM

There is also a lot of legal downloading by Bittorrent, such as Ubuntu or many other Linux distros. It has numerous advantages over doing a straight download.

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