There a many ways that you can share files over the internet. The most widely used method is downloading from a central server, however, there are others that are gaining popularity. Peer-to-peer file sharing has been around for a long time and has only grown in popularity as more and more subscription-based services pop up.
Torrents are a method of distributing files over the internet. They operate over the BitTorrent protocol to facilitate what's called peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing. There are a number of benefits torrent-based file sharing has over traditional file sharing. Expensive server equipment isn't necessary to send files to many people at once, and low-bandwidth (slow) networks can just as easily download large sets of data.
The most common way to use torrents is through a special file that uses the .TORRENT file extension. Within the file are directions for how to share specific data with other people.
What is special about torrenting?
Torrents are like other forms of downloading to your computer. However, the way in which you get the files isn't as straightforward, and sharing your own data is much easier.
Here's an example of how traditional file sharing works over the HTTP protocol:
- Visit a web page in your browser.
- Click a download link to start the download process.
- Save the file to your computer.
The file you downloaded was on a server, probably a high-end one with lots of disk space and other system resources, designed to serve thousands or millions of people at once. The file exists on that one server only, and anyone with access to it can download it.
Torrents work a bit differently. While your web browser connects to websites using the HTTP protocol, torrents use BitTorrent, so a program that can communicate over BitTorrent is needed instead:
- Open a torrent program.
- Open the TORRENT file to start the download process.
- Save the file to your computer.
In this scenario, the data you're downloading through the torrent might exist on hundreds of servers at once, but these servers are almost always a standard personal computer in a home, just like yours. Advanced hardware isn't required and anyone can become a participant in this type of file exchange. In fact, anyone who downloads even a portion of the file can now operate as their own torrent server.
How do torrents work?
Torrents, as you read above, rely on a peer-to-peer network. This just means that the torrent data, whatever it might be, can be accessed from more than one server at once. Anyone downloading the torrent gets it in bits and pieces from the other servers.
For example, imagine if I created a torrent to share a program I made. I enable the torrent and share the file online. Dozens of people are downloading it, and you're one of them. Your torrent program will pick and choose which server to take the file from depending on who's currently sharing it and which servers have the part of the file that you currently need.
In a traditional file sharing setup that uses a file server, sharing a 200 MB program to 1,000 people would quickly exhaust all of my upload bandwidth, especially if they all requested the file at once. Torrents eliminate this problem by letting clients scrape just a little bit of the data from me, a little bit from another user, and so on until they've downloaded the whole file.
Once more than one person has the entire file downloaded, the original sharer can stop distributing it without it affecting anyone else. The file will remain available for any other users of that torrent because of the decentralized, P2P foundation of BitTorrent.
Is torrenting music legal?
When inquiring about the downloading of music torrent is illegal, but then again it is not. What would make downloading a music torrent valid would be if the file is not copywritten protected from redistribution. This could include music that is self-recorded or recorded by an individual party that is not associated with an entity claiming intellectual rights to the content. That could include artists who are not signed to a label or attempting to gain an independent status so they purposefully release the music file in order to brand and advertise their product and talents.
Another instance in which a downloaded music torrent would be valid is when the music is in the public domain, with the public endowed with the legal right to share the content. There are several ways in which the public is endowed with the rights to redistribute music, some are implied, others and explicitly expressed. It is incumbent upon the person uploading the torrent file to ensure that they are adhering to all of the federal, state and local laws as they pertain to music torrents.
Besides, music torrent is legal to be downloaded is if it is your own personal file, and it is being used for a private use. In this case, since no other persons are involved in any type of transfer of the file, then no one will question the legalities of whether the act of downloading the file is illegal. This even applies to large corporations like YouTube, Twitter or Social Media in which you may have uploaded or downloaded a file that was also posted on one of their sites.
But the reasons that would make the downloading of a music torrent file illegal would be when the music torrent is copyright protected and restricted from redistribution. Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection to prevents duplication or redistribution without explicitly expressed permission. Any music that is copyright protected cannot, or in this case should not be shared. Hence, downloading a torrent file of copyright protected music, that action is actually illegal.
The dangers of torrenting music
For the most part, downloading torrent files are safe, especially when they are downloaded from a popular and well-known website. The problems come in when a new site emerges that no one has heard of and their files are corrupt or contain malware.
Likely the biggest risk associated with torrents has nothing to do with malware infection, data leaks or the theft of company information. A good portion of the files available through P2P networks contain copyrighted material, making sharing of such data illegal. Moreover, the odds that an illegal file sharer will get caught are greater now than ever before. The film and music industries employ agencies that scour the Internet in search of violators, which they accomplish by tracing uploaders’ IP addresses and monitoring embedded trackers hidden in copyrighted movies and songs. Penalties range from suspension of Internet service to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. To avoid legal trouble -- which likely wouldn't be good for business -- stick to downloading non-copyrighted or freeware files, or just stay away from P2P websites.
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