The Internet can be a wonderful resource for news and information, it can help you find a job, or connect you with friends all over the world. However, it also has a dark side that lure many unsuspecting people into a trap with costly and embarrassing legal consequences. One of the most troubling is a program called BitTorrent.
BitTorrent is a file-sharing program favored by pirates hoping to trade free copies of software, movies, and music. There are other versions of the BitTorrent protocol know by other names — uTorrent, Vuze, LimeWire, and Transmission are some of the more popular variations. Every variant of BitTorrent does the same thing — it allows users to share files with other users on the Internet.
The program itself is fairly ingenious — it takes a large file, like a movie, and breaks it up into thousands of smaller pieces. As a user searches for a movie, it locates someone who has the file and begins downloading the small pieces from that user. The program keeps searching for other users with the same file, and as it finds these other users, they begin sharing pieces.
BitTorrent has two features that make it a favorite of pirates — first, it never stops searching for pieces, meaning that thousands of users share the file with the downloader. This gives it incredible download speed. Second, as soon as the downloader has any piece, of the file, he or she must share their parts of the file with another downloader — uploading cannot be disabled.
However, there are no legally available movies on BitTorrent! Movie producers have begun suing BitTorrent users by the thousands for their file-sharing activities. For example, Killer Joe was a box-office flop starring Matthew McConaughey. However, Killer Joe is widely and easily available on BitTorrent. To make back their investment, the producers have engaged in a mass litigation strategy against the users sharing the movie.
As of this date, the producers of Killer Joe have filed more than 50 lawsuits against hundreds of individuals seeking damages of up to $150,000 per user! Fighting the case could cost the defendants many thousands of dollars, and even a “cheap” settlement is typically $1,000-2,000. Suddenly, that “free” movie isn’t so free.
Even worse, some of the files on BitTorrent have been corrupted by hackers, embedding hidden viruses on your computer that can be used to access your bank accounts, personal files, and other private information.
To avoid this kind of lawsuit, don’t use BitTorrent. There are several legitimate sources of free movie content online — Amazon Instant Video and Netflix legally offer many free movies to their subscribers. Apple’s iTunes service also offers content, though not typically for free. Movies from these sources, both streaming and downloadable, are perfectly legal and will not get you in trouble.
Another important thing to do is password protect your wireless internet. “Wardrivers” are hackers who physically drive to locations looking for unprotected WiFi so that they can use BitTorrent on someone else’s network — when the lawsuit comes, it will be the completely innocent homeowner in court while the Wardriver gets away.
For the innocent homeowner, it will cost many thousands of dollars and several months of legal aggravation to clear his or her name. Many people, rather than deal with the risk and hassle of court simply choose to pay a settlement out of their own pocket.
BitTorrent is dangerous and risky, and can very easily land you in court. Lock down your wireless, and don’t use BitTorrent — there are no legal movies available there.