Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Torrent files are used by bitTorrent file sharing and downloading technology. Are they illegal? No. But something else might be.
Downloading Torrent Files, is it illegal?
No it's not.
BUT WAIT ...
Before you run off and start downloading last week's bootlegged theatrical movie release, you really need to understand why that particular download and others like it probably are illegal.
(Caveat: I'm basing this on my knowledge of the current state of Copyright law. Please, realize I'm no lawyer, and this shouldn't be taken as legal advice. This is mostly just common sense with the high level concepts we're talking about.)
"Torrent" files are, specifically, a small file of information used by a file sharing technology known as "bitTorrent". To be super pedantic about it, because the ".torrent" file itself just has some administrative information in it, there's nothing wrong with downloading it.
But that, of course, is not what you meant.
The word "torrent" is also frequently, though incorrectly, used to refer to the actual files being shared using bitTorrent. So while you might use the ".torrent" to initiate a download, most people call the download itself a "torrent" as well. And that's more than likely what you're asking.
But here's the catch: bitTorrent is nothing more than a file downloading technology. It's highly efficient, optimized for large files and for decentralized storage of the files being downloaded, but ultimately it's nothing more than a way to copy a file down to your machine.
Copying a file to your machine is not illegal.
The technology used to copy a file to your machine is not illegal.
In some ways you could just as well ask "Is it legal to download files from the web?", to which the answer is (obviously, I hope), of course it's legal. We do it every time we view a web page.
The problem comes from looking at exactly what kinds of files are being downloaded.
Downloading copyrighted files without permission is illegal. And it doesn't matter what technology you happen to use to do it: bitTorrent, FTP, web downloads, email or getting a CD in the mail. If the material is copyrighted and you didn't pay for or otherwise get the legal right or license to receive those files, those are all copyright violations.
Unfortunately bitTorrent technology has become confused with illegal file sharing simply because so much of that illegal activity uses that technology.
So let's be clear: the technology is legal. BitTorrent is legal. Torrents are legal. But using bitTorrent or any other technology to download copyrighted material that you don't have the right to is not.
And yes, bitTorrent and bitTorrent-like technology can most definitely be used for totally legal activities. As just one small example I believe many Linux distributions are often made available as torrents. Perfectly legal, and exactly the kind of large download that bitTorrent technology was designed for and excels at.
Sadly, people who should know better either don't, or are purposely using that confusion to further their own agenda. We've heard of ISPs and other facilities blocking or throttling bitTorrent file transfers, or politicians suggesting they do so, "because it's all illegal". It's not. Along with blocking the illegal file sharing that's going on, doing so also blocks the legal and appropriate use of the technology as well.
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