Curiously, a couple of days after our article on ethical piracy, we got a cease-and-desist letter from our Internet service provider, telling us that they had received a complain regarding copyrighted material being shared from our IP address. Hmmm… Coincidence? Or something more sinister!!!!?!?! Actually, no, I think it was just coincidence, as the files in question actually were our son’s responsibility. We had to have The Talk with him, expressing our severe disappointment that he had been busted; and, in particular, that it was for episodes of Eureka. Sheesh. I think we’d have preferred it to have been German scat porn.
Naturally, we are complying with our ISP’s request, because sharing copyrighted material is bad, m’kay? But, if we were still doing so, here are a few simple steps we would probably be taking, to avoid incurring the wrath of the entertainment industry.
1. Avoid the obvious stuff. The MPAA, RIAA, etc. are driven by money, and they naturally concentrate their anti-piracy efforts on what is driving their revenue stream. That means movies that are still in cinemas, TV shows currently in their first run, newly-released CDs, etc. These are what they are monitoring for, so should generally be avoided. There’s enough interesting stuff out there, you shouldn’t need to be obsessed with getting the “latest” films.
2. Sharing is not caring. Leeching – downloading without uploading – is a good deal safer. ISP’s act on complaints from copyright holders, and it is relatively easy for them to tell who has a file available for sharing, compared to working out who has downloaded it. Once you’ve grabbed a file, remove the torrent so that it is no longer accessible by others online. Selfish? Yep. Safer? Definitely.
3. Make things somewhat tricky. It doesn’t take much, like the proverb says. You don’t have to run faster than the bear, just faster than the guy next to you. Simple steps like encrypting your torrent connection will help make things tougher, rather than operating an open door policy for anyone who wants to waltz in and see what’s in your Download directory.
4. Use Peerblock. This is an application which has an updated list of IP addresses belonging to the “bad guys” (from your point of view, this means media companies, Internet service providers, and so on) and will block them from making connection attempts to your PC. While, not fool-proof, and it can occasionally interfere with accessing things like newspaper websites, the application makes it tough enough the watchdogs will generally go after some other, lower-hanging fruit.
5. Use an intermediary. For about ten euros a month, you can buy yourself a “seedbox” – a share on a standalone computer, which you can use as the torrent box. It does all the downloading, rather than your PC, and since it’s not your IP address, your ISP won’t care. When the download is finished, you connect to the seedbox and retrieve your content over http, just like accessing any other website. If that’s too much effort, use a free service like torrific.com – you give them the torrent file, and they download it onto their server. No more torrent traffic.
6. Private trackers. These are sites where, to access the torrents, you need first to login. The torrent has additional information attached to it, that means only other members can see and share it. Generally these sites are themed, specializing in say, British TV, cult movies or Asian films, and some are invite only. There’s nothing to stop the MPAA from signing up for a membership, but there’s enough people using public trackers like The Pirate Bay, that it’s not worth the hassle.
7. Open All Hours. It seems a reasonable assumption to make that those hunting you down – both on the copyright holder’s side and at your hosting company – are doing so as a job, and thus likely work business hours, i.e. 9-5 Mon-Fri. There is therefore less chance of being nabbed if you kick your Torrent application on late on a Friday night, and then switch it off Sunday evening, or otherwise use non-peak hours.
8. Hide in plain sight. Don’t just Torrent illegal stuff. There’s plenty of public-domain movies, music and software out there that are perfectly legal to share over a Torrent. If you are doing that on a regular basis, then this will provide a background hum of legitimate traffic that will be less likely to draw the attention of your ISP. You may never watch that copy of Atom-Age Vampire, but it can still serve a purpose.
9. Stick to trusted sources. One recent trick used by authorities is to become seeders themselves, announcing a great-quality torrent of hot new release X. But anyone who connects to this gets their IP address immediately harvested, and passed on to their provider for action. As mentioned before, avoiding “hot new torrents” will help, but sticking to torrents posted by users who have a previous good history is even better.
10. Move out of the UK. Sorry, guys. The Digital Economy Act, passed by Parliament shortly before the election, is a scary piece of legislation, that gives the government wide-ranging powers to cut off Internet access to broadband users accused of file-sharing, and also block access to sites that are “likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright.” You guys have fun with that…