Legal uses for BitTorrent – when Filesharing is Legal

February 12, 2011, By Christian Cawley

While sharing copyrighted material is illegal, not everything you find on the BitTorrent networks is pirated. Music, movies and books by amateurs and non-industry entertainment professionals might be found there as a means of self-promotion, while peer to peer filesharing is also used to enable the streaming of content from services such as BBC iPlayer.

As such it is wrong to assume that just because the term “filesharing” is largely used in connection with the word “illegal” that it always is.

Sharing Files with Friends – Legal versus Illegal

Certain files are legal to share – for instance documents, photos or artistic images that you have created, or even musical compositions or a podcast that you have developed. Basically if you thought of it and made it, it’s free to distribute the end product, providing you didn’t take advantage of anyone else’s intellectual property in the process.

So for instance if you chat regularly on Windows Live Messenger and share photos of yourself with your friends using the systems file transfer tool, this is legal; sharing an MP3 of the latest Rihanna single however is illegal.

Similarly creating a torrent file featuring video clips from your holiday is perfectly fine, and you can share this to your heart’s content; however creating a torrent file of a movie or TV show is illegal (unless you happen to have created said movie or TV show).

BBC iPlayer and Peer to Peer Streaming

Thanks to the reaction of music and movie industry lawyers and PR departments, we automatically equate illegal filesharing to legal filesharing. However the two things are quite different.

A case in point is BBC iPlayer which uses a peer to peer streaming model, similar to BitTorrent, to share TV and radio broadcasts for delayed viewing to a variety of different hardware types throughout the UK. Because of the vast numbers using iPlayer, the BBC use the peer-to-peer (aka P2P) system as their own servers couldn’t possibly handle the demand.

BBC iPlayer is set to go international during 2011, which will result in a lot of people using P2P filesharing without actually knowing it.

Watch Out for Illegal Files

Some files that you spot online might not appear to be illegal, but as a rule of thumb if the contents of the torrent file or data from an often used “download site” are movies, music, video games or comic books, there is a very good chance that they are being pirated. Unauthorized copying of digital data is illegal, so downloading from these types of website might get you into trouble at some point, particularly if you are a regular downloader.

The thing is, you don’t have to download material that is someone else’s copyright – there are plenty of music, movies and games available online that can be downloaded legally.

Sources for Legal BitTorrent Files

There are many websites where you can download legal torrents of interesting user-generated material, either self-published books or music or amateur movies. The creators of these products are all looking for exposure, and hoping that underground recognition might lead to success – or just more recognition.

If you’re looking for entertainment content that can be downloaded free without breaching copyright, here are three good resources:

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