If you often download anything using torrent software where the name of the torrent could be misconstrued as something you should be paying for, you might need to use a torrent privacy service to protect yourself from litigation.
A few years ago, the Internet community at large became painfully aware that people were being sent pre-lawsuit settlement letters for downloading movies or music using torrent software. The letters came from various groups of attorneys who’d formed companies for the sole purpose of collecting settlements from people who’d been identified as pirates. The last organization I heard about was called “The United States Copyright Group” in 2010.
Using a third-party service, these attorneys would find people who were supposedly infringing on the copyrights of their clients (the music labels, the movie studios, the video game software companies, etc.). They then sent out letters to those people, offering to settle with them for some fixed amount (I’ve read $3,000 in some places, higher or lower in others) to avoid a lawsuit.
I haven’t heard of anything like this happening recently, but then it may just be because the news of it happening isn’t gaining media attention.
If you receive a letter like this, you have some choices:
If you respond with a payment, you’re admitting guilt. If you respond denying the payment, you may be sued. If you ignore the letter, you may be sued. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, you can either pay or take your chances at being sued.
The courts say it isn’t extortion, but what would you call it when you’re offered a settlement amount in lieu of a lawsuit? Here, give us this small amount of money and we won’t take you to court and drive you to financial ruin.
It stinks of racketeering but since the entertainment industries seem to be in cahoots with the US legal system, it will never get identified as such. The worst part about it is that you have no legal recourse when you’re falsely accused of copyright infringement. Criminal law has safeguards in place that civil law doesn’t. With criminal law, the burden of proof is on the accuser. With civil law, there is no burden of proof needed. All a judge or jury has to do is believe you’re guilty and you’re guilty.
What can you do if you’ve been improperly identified? What if you don’t even have a computer? Are you going to fight the lawsuit in court? Even if you win, you lose. You still have to pay your attorney. Contrary to popular belief, if you get sued and win, the accuser doesn’t have to pay your legal costs unless the judge specifically orders it. The legal costs alone will probably be more than the settlement offer.
If it isn’t a racket, what is it?
I was actually shocked to receive a notice of infringement from the MPAA for a movie released in 2010 (it was still in the theaters). I thought the movie was something else and when it started downloading at turtle speed, I stopped it and deleted the file. Within a couple of days, my ISP forwarded a notice of infringement to me by e-mail. The notice included a link to “Respect Copyrights” where I found a nice list of online services where I could supposedly get movies legally. The problem with that list is that none of those services were “legally” available to me where I was living, the Philippines.
I use a torrent client for downloading anything I need to download, when I can. Downloading with a torrent client is usually 10 times faster than standard downloads, even with a slow DSL connection. This is how I get things like my Linux ISO files. Since I don’t ever want to be considered guilty before proving my innocence (or settle out of court), I considered another option: Torrent privacy services.
With all the litigation, pending litigation and threats of litigation making their rounds back then, it was just a matter of time before enterprising companies decided to take advantage of privacy concerns. I knew torrent privacy services would eventually be offered the minute the first case went to court.
I did a few searches and came across the Torrent Privacy website. For a low monthly fee (and other payment periods are mentioned), you can have all of your torrent traffic encrypted and routed through their servers using a secure tunnel. Instead of the torrents showing your IP address as a peer, it shows theirs. I found BTGuard later on and the pricing is similar.
I’m sure there are other services out there just like them. If you’re technically inclined, you could probably set something like this up yourself and forgo the fees, but the fees are low enough to make it seem like you’d be wasting your time. You may not agree with their business models, but you have to consider that they may get sued for one reason or another at any time.
Anti-privacy (those that say if you’re doing nothing wrong, you shouldn’t hide it) and anti-piracy pundits will always accuse you of doing something wrong when they know you’re using torrent privacy services. Torrent privacy services aren’t about getting away with doing something wrong – torrent privacy services are about Internet security, something everyone needs to pay attention to. With all the revelations about the NSA in the media these days, torrent privacy services may be more important now than ever.