In the early days of the Internet people used programs like Napster (pictured below), KaZaa, Limewire, Morpheus and other P2P apps to share files and download movies and music. Back in those days it was the wild west -- where anything goes. Your chances of getting caught downloading movies or music were pretty slim. But, file sharing became more widespread and everyone started doing it. The movie and record companies started cracking down. Some people were taken to court, fined, and even put in jail. Follow these instructions to make sure that this doesn't happen to you. The good news is that you can still download but, you have to be smarter about how you do it.
The most obvious way to protect yourself is this:
DO NOT DOWNLOAD MUSIC OR MOVIES DIRECTLY TO YOUR COMPUTER!
Yes. You read that correctly. This is how most people get busted for downloading. In the past nobody knew that you were downloading stuff. Nobody was watching. Nobody cared. But, all of that has changed. The movie and music companies pay companies to monitor file sharing networks now. These companies join the file sharing network and keep track of who is downloading what. If they see you downloading a movie or a music file they will send a report to your Internet provider. Your Internet provider will then send you what is known as a "take down notice". This is basically an email saying: "We saw you downloading a movie (or music file) and we demand that you stop." If you stop sharing the file they will go away and stop bothering you. If you don't stop sharing the file they will send you more emails. Each one will sound scarier than the previous one. They will threaten to cut off your Internet connection and / or take you to court and sue you.
In the past you could get hundreds of these emails and nothing would really be done to you. But, all that is about to change. The US is working to implement a "six strikes" policy. It is expected to become operational in February 2013. The MPAA, RIAA and five major U.S. Internet providers will start to warn BitTorrent pirates. You will be given "six strikes". If you get caught downloading or file sharing more than 6 times they will cut off your Internet connection, reduce your speed, and / or take you to court and sue you for copyright infringement. Basically, what this means is that the free ride is over. You can still continue to download files but you will have to spend some money to protect yourself. If you don't protect yourself you could end up spending tens of thousands of dollars in fines, lose your Internet connection, or even go to jail!
Here is how you can protect yourself and download safely:
1.) Use a proxy service
What is a proxy? A proxy is a way to hide yourself. A proxy server provides a way to hide your downloading activity from people who are trying to monitor you. Instead of seeing your computer they see the proxy computer. They can't tell where your traffic is going to or coming from. This helps to hide your identity when downloading movies or music on the Internet. Here's a small graphic which explains how it works:
The idea is that "Bob" never knows who "Alice" is because he never gets to talk to her directly. He talks to the proxy. The proxy relays the messages back and forth. Now, imagine that "Bob" is The Pirate Bay and "Alice" is your computer at home. If you were downloading pirated movies, the only one who would know this would be the proxy server. If anyone else was spying on your conversation, they would simply see you talking to the proxy. They wouldn't be able to find out who the proxy server was talking to. This is how a proxy server can protect your privacy and allow you to download anonymously.
Here's how to protect yourself with a proxy server:
Here are some proxy servers that you can use:
2.) Set up a Seedbox (or VPN)
What is a "seedbox"? A seedbox is also sometimes called a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It's a private server that is used for uploading and downloading digital files. It's different than a proxy server in that it physically resides somewhere else. When you use a proxy server, your Internet traffic goes through a 3rd party service. You still download the movies or music to your computer. You just use the proxy to hide your identity. The seedbox (or VPN), on the other hand, completely removes your computer from the process. Check out this graphic:
Notice how your home computer never connects to the download site directly. This is the purpose of the seedbox. You queue up files to download from the pirate movie or music site. The files download from there to the seedbox. Then, you connect to the seedbox later and download the files to your computer. From your Internet provider's point of view it looks like regular Internet traffic. They have no idea what you're downloading. If any 3rd party company tries to spy on you or trace the downloads to you -- it will fail. The best they can do would be to track the download back to the seedbox. And if that gets shut down, you can sign up for a new one. Another advantage to a seedbox is that you get much faster download speeds. A proxy download might take 2 or 3 hours but, if you have a seedbox, you could see 2 or 3 minute downloads.
There are many seedbox and VPN offerings out there. Some are as low as $7 a month. Others are super-fast, dedicated servers which cost hundreds. It all depends on what you are looking for. A lot of the high-end seedbox servers or VPNs assume that you're very computer savvy. A great Seedbox site which is easy for beginners (and advanced users) is: Pulsed Media.
They offer a software program called pulsedBox which makes using Bittorrent and a seedbox very easy. PulsedBox runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux and associates itself with .torrent files. You just download the .torrent file and double click on it and it's automatically queued up and downloaded to your seedbox. Then, you can use a program like FTP to get the file from the seedbox to your local machine.
Here's how Pulsed Media works:
First, sign up for an account. They are offering a small seedbox for 8.99€ a month if you pay annually. (At the current exchange rate, this works out to about $12.21). Sometimes they have cheaper packages available. You just have to monitor their web site. You might be able to find the "Starter" package for 5.99€ a month (about $8.15). After your account is set up you'll get an email with a link to download PulsedBox. Install it on your computer, open the program, and log in to your Pulsed Media account.
Next, go to your favorite Bittorrent web site. Find something that you want to download and click the button to download the .torrent file to your local computer.
Double-clicking on the file will open the PulsedBox software:
The .torrent file will get queued up and start downloading to your seedbox. (Typically, the servers are located in France or the Netherlands or Finland). The file will download directly from the Bitorrent site to the server in Europe. No files are being downloaded to your computer. If your Internet provider is spying on you they will not see you downloading anything.
After the file has finished downloading to the seedbox server you can open up a program like CuteFTP or Filezilla and download it to your local machine. Your Internet provider will only see that you are transferring files via FTP. They will never see any P2P or Bittorrent traffic coming from your computer.
The best part of this system is that you can use it from anywhere. You could be at the office or a friend's house or on your mobile phone or iPad. You can queue up files to your seedbox and then download them later when you are at home. Using this method you could download terabytes of music or movies and your ISP would never catch you.
3.) Discover Usenet
I personally have not used this method, but, I know people who swear by it. You can find tons of movies, music, and TV shows on Usenet and --most importantly-- it's not monitored. In case you are not familiar with it, Usenet is a very old system that existed before the World Wide Web (WWW). There are "forums" (called newsgroups) that are organized by topic. People can post messages or files. Then, other people can come along and read, reply or download. To view Usenet you need two things:
You can learn all about Usenet by checking this site: How to Download Using Usenet
4.) Use Secure Media Storage
One great site which functions a lot like a Bittorrent VPN or seedbox is Furk.net. The service starts at 9.95€ per month (about $13.55). Furk.net allows you to queue up torrent files remotely (much like a VPN or seedbox). The big difference however is that you can download or stream them via HTTP (the web). I discovered this site a few years ago when my Internet provider blocked The Pirate Bay. I was unable to download any files. I signed up to Furk.net and copied the link from The Pirate Bay and pasted it into the form at Furk.net and the file downloaded there. I was then able to click a link and download the file using my web browser (no FTP software needed).
Another nice feature of Furk.net is that they cache (or save) the most popular files. This means that if somebody else downloaded the same file it will become instantly available to you. No waiting! You get a link to download or start watching. If you just want to use your browser and don't want to mess around with other software, Furk.net could be a solution for you.
5.) Use A Legal Streaming Service
Sounds totally obvious, right? You have to weigh the pros and the cons. If you're a serious collector who likes non-traditional stuff or you like indie films or TV shows from a different country, P2P and Bittorrent is the way to go. The backwards media-licensing laws currently in place mean that it will be years before you can legally watch your content.
But, if you aren't into collecting hard-to-find stuff, why not spend that money on a Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, or Amazon Prime membership instead? You'll be spending $6 - $15 a month just to remain anonymous. Why risk losing your Internet? This way you get to watch tons of streaming movies and TV shows and don't have to worry about getting caught.
Some people just download movies because it's convenient. If you're downloading torrents because you're lazy then seriously -- save yourself some trouble. Don't risk losing your Internet connection or paying massive fines. It's not worth it. Spend the money to become anonymous or go legit.
6.) Get Your Music from YouTube
Lots of people used Limewire or Kazaa to download music. These methods are not safe anymore! If you use P2P programs like this you put yourself at risk multiple ways. The most obvious is getting caught.
If the RIAA catches you they'll threaten to sue you. They'll send you a letter and let you "settle out of court" for $4,000 - $5,000. If you hired a lawyer to try to fight it you'd easily spend that much money. If you try to fight it on your own (by going to court) they could sue you for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Another concern is viruses. One strategy the record labels have taken to combat piracy is to pee in the pool. Their goal is to spoil the fun for everyone. They hire companies to upload viruses and bogus files that are named the same as songs (or movies) that you're looking for. When you download the file and double click on it instead of a music file, you get a computer virus. They also upload incorrectly named files. You think that you're downloading one song but, you get something else instead. By ruining the files the record labels are hoping that you'll have a bad experience. They want you to stop using P2P to download music.
One of the safest ways to download music is from YouTube. Yes,YouTube! Here's how:
1. Go to YouTube and find the song that you're looking for. Copy (CTRL+C) the web address. It should look something like this:
2. Go to a video conversion site like VidToMP3: http://www.vidtomp3.com
3. Paste (CTRL+V) the web address into the form and click the Download button
4. After your MP3 file is converted click the link to continue
5. Click the button to download your MP3 file!
This site is meant to be a start to give you some ideas for how to download safely and protect your privacy. Once the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) start working together with the music and movie companies --to become the copyright police-- more and more people will run into trouble. The plan is referred to as "Six Strikes". The idea is that you will get 6 warnings before your Internet is cut off. In other countries (like France) they have implemented a three strikes program. What happens after the sixth warning? Nobody knows. They might sue you. They may send you to jail or hit you with a fine.
Save yourself the trouble. Don't get caught! You have two main options: pay to protect your anonymity or pay for your digital content. The free-wheeling days of unlimited downloads is coming to an end. You may get away with it once or twice. But, if you continue to download the way that you used to, you will get busted sooner or later. Protect yourself and be prepared!