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VPNs and torrenting are more intertwined than ever before, with the former best used as a method to provide enhanced privacy and anonymity when downloading the latter. After all, why would anyone turn down the opportunity to download free files, be it videos, music, ebooks, games, software, or any other form of digital media?
We’ve put together a guide detailing everything you could possibly need to know about using a VPN for torrenting. It includes legality, safety, and BitTorrent setup while using a VPN.
What is a torrent?
Torrenting is a popular form of file sharing that uses a program to split a file into small downloadable chunks. It has frequently garnered media attention after a number of high-profile cases that have seen hefty fines handed out in the past.
For example, back in the day, LimeWire was the go-to source for free peer-to-peer file sharing (P2P). However, it closed down in 2010 after a four-year legal battle with the U.S. music industry.
A torrent refers to any file shared through a decentralized P2P network such as Limewire. It works by using a program or app to join a network of other systems that either have the file stored on them or are currently downloading it at the same time.
Is torrenting legal?
For the most part, yes, torrenting is legal. This is true for the U.S., the UK, the EU, and vast swathes of the world. As long as the file isn’t copyrighted, P2P sharing via torrent sites is completely fine. (This is why the U.S. music industry went after Limewire so aggressively.)
At worst, you’re likely to receive a letter from your ISP asking you to stop, or they may begin to throttle your speeds if you’re constantly downloading large files.
A legal torrent is any file that is freely available to download online with no issues relating to copyright.
There are many sources for legal torrents, with a large list that can be found here. The Vuze Wiki page notes that “Creative Commons” is an effective search term for legal torrents.
A torrent is a great way to push out large files to users, such as game updates, or anything wanted by lots of people in a short space of time.
Legal torrents are all well and good, but there’s also an endless stream of copyrighted material that is available online. We would advise against downloading illegal torrents, especially considering the fines previously meted under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The Pirate Bay used to be seen as a good source for illegal torrents, but co-founder and former administrator Peter Sunde was eventually charged. Sunde was told to pay $428,000 in damages, but later won on appeal so long as he never breaches copyright laws again or “face a $1,222,000 penalty.”
Then there’s Joel Tenenbaum, who was fined “$675,000 – or $22,500 for each of the 30 songs he was found liable of infringing” in 2009. He was forced to file for bankruptcy to settle six years later. It’s unlikely you’ll be fined to this extreme (or even at all), but it’s still a considerable risk.
Is torrenting safe?
It’s a common question for anyone who wants to start using torrents to download files. Is it safe to do so?
There are risks when downloading any file from the internet, especially if it could potentially be copyrighted material. Some ISPs are also quick to share information with copyright holders if they find out. As long as you’re downloading legal torrents, we’d pay more attention to the issues discussed below.
Malware and viruses
The most common risks are malware and viruses packaged with the torrent. They come in many shapes and forms including fake files that have the same name or malware attached to the file that you actually want.
Be wary when downloading any file from the internet. We would suggest scanning any and all torrent files with antivirus software before you open them to be safe. Or, another good form of due diligence involves checking the size of the torrent file, as well as any corresponding comments to determine its legitimacy.
‘Throttling’ is when your internet service provider deliberately slows down a user’s internet connection if it determines that the user is downloading large torrent files.
This is another reason why the use of a VPN is ideal. Your ISP can’t snoop on you if your IP address is hidden.
Using a VPN for torrenting
Avoiding throttling isn’t the only reason why a VPN is highly recommended for torrenting. With your data completely encrypted by the VPN servers, your ISP will have no idea what you’re up to.
Meanwhile, peers who are also downloading the torrent won’t be able to track you either, as they won’t be able to see your physical location or where your internet traffic is going. If you do accidentally download copyrighted material, you’ll also be protected from companies that scour the internet looking for people to sue.
Below we’ll teach you how to use a VPN for torrenting safely. But before you read on, we recommend securing your own VPN service first.
Downloading a torrent with BitTorrent
We’re going to use BitTorrent for this guide, as it’s one of the best-known torrent programs available.
They also have a browser version called BitTorrent web, which could be worth checking out as it allows for streaming while downloading a file.
BitTorrent boasts over 2 billion users and has been around since 2001. The company currently develops products across two brands, BitTorrent and µTorrent, which offer download clients for Windows, Mac, and Android.
How to download a torrent with BitTorrent
Before we get started, here are common terms found within a torrent client:
- Seeders – A seeder is a computer on the network that has the complete file. You can download either the whole file or a piece from a seeder
- Leechers – Leechers represent devices with the file partially downloaded
- Peers – The number of people who have the file and are currently downloading the contents
- Trackers – Trackers help to keep tabs on the seeders and leechers, sorting the necessary connections to share the file between users
- Swarm – A swarm is a blanket term for the network of seeders, peers and trackers
Now that that’s out of the way, you should be ready to begin.
For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to assume that you already have the specific torrent ready to download on your device.
Make sure you remember where you’ve saved it to.
You’ll also need the torrent program (BitTorrent for this example), as well as the VPN downloaded.
- To begin, sign in to your VPN client. (If in doubt about which VPN to pick, we’d recommend a service like NordVPN specifically for torrenting.)
- Make sure the kill switch is on.
- Select a server to connect to. (Some providers will have torrent-friendly servers.)
- Open the BT client app or the browser version if you would prefer.
- From the main page, select the Torrents tab on the left.
- You can either search for a torrent directly or “Add a torrent file from your computer.” We’ve opted for the latter.
- (I grabbed a legal torrent from here for testing purposes.) You can either find the file manually, or drag and drop it to begin.
- Check the file size, the name, and select where you want the file to downloaded to. Finally, click the purple “Add” button at the bottom.
- Your file will now begin to download. You can keep tabs on the speed, seeders, and other information on the next page.
- Once the file is downloaded, you can access it via BitTorrent or in the location you previously selected.
It’s a simple process, which is another reason why it has proved to be popular with so many users.
An obvious benefit of a VPN is the ability to access torrent websites. Whether legal or not, ISPs block many torrent sites directly, meaning you won’t be able to find any files when you look online.
Any good VPN service will be able to bypass these restrictions easily. You’ll be able to bypass any throttling, which means you won’t be limited in terms of download speeds as long as you pick a fast provider.
Anonymity and privacy are also benefits to consider. Make sure to keep the kill switch turned on at all times while downloading torrents to be safe. VPN providers like IPVanish and Private Internet Access are a few that offer this advanced security feature.
The best VPN for torrenting
Determining the best of anything is generally subjective. However, there are a number of features we’d look out for when selecting a top-rated VPN for torrenting.
Connection speeds will be key, as you’ll want to avoid any lag or slower downloads while the VPN is active. In that respect, we’d recommend the likes of ExpressVPN and NordVPN as we’ve already mentioned above.
Privacy and security are also important, especially as you’ll want to stay free of anyone aiming to find out what you’re currently downloading.
Take a look at our top 2021 VPN to find out which provider is best at supporting torrenting.
Torrents are perfectly legal for most users, and the same goes for programs like BitTorrent. Copyright holders tend to be the ones to watch out for, which is why we’d advise sticking with legal torrents. It’s not completely safe, and you will have to do your own due diligence with each and every file you decide to download. Antivirus software will be helpful, along with good old common sense.
A VPN will be useful if your internet service provider blocks torrent sites. This can happen even if your files are legal, depending on the restrictions the ISP has in place. We’ve tested dozens of free and cheap VPN providers to help you find a solution.
Overall, connection speeds and security are the most important features to look for when picking the best VPN for torrenting. Torrenting is a great way to download large legal files quickly, and there’s no better way to do so than with the use of a capable VPN.