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Is Torrenting Illegal?

Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio

Our Verdict

Downloading and sharing torrent files is completely legal. However, torrenting copyrighted material without permission is illegal in most countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and most European states. If caught, you could receive a financial penalty or even a prison sentence.

Is uTorrent Safe

Whether torrenting is legal or illegal will depend on the type of files you are torrenting and where in the world you’re torrenting from. In this guide, we break down global torrenting laws by country and explain exactly what happens if you get caught.

EXPERT TIP: Without a VPN, your IP address and torrenting activity will be visible to both your ISP and other peers in the torrenting swarm. We recommend using a secure, no-logs VPN like ExpressVPN to stay safe when torrenting.

DISCLAIMER: This guide is intended to help users avoid accidentally breaking the law. While it has been thoroughly researched, we are not legal professionals. To clarify the laws in your country, seek professional legal advice.

Where Is Torrenting Legal and Illegal?

Torrenting itself is legal everywhere. Torrenting is just a form of peer-to-peer file sharing, and torrent files are simply a type of document used in the process. There isn’t a single country where downloading torrents or using torrenting websites is illegal in itself.

However, the contents of many torrent files breach copyright laws, which vary by country.

It is illegal to torrent copyrighted files in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and most states in the European Union. If you download films, music or television files that are not in the public domain, there’s a good chance you could be breaking copyright laws.

There are two major international treaties on copyright: the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention. Countries that have signed these treaties agree to enforce each other’s copyright laws, and are more likely to pursue criminal charges.

Depending on where you live, the consequences of being caught torrenting copyrighted files can vary from small fines to jail time. However, if you’re downloading publicly-owned files from torrenting websites, you are not breaking the law.

Torrenting & Copyright Laws by Country

The laws on torrenting copyrighted material vary significantly across the world. For example, in Somalia there are no copyright laws at all, whereas the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and most EU countries ban it outright. Some countries allow torrenting copyrighted files for personal use, though.

Here’s a table comparing torrenting and copyright laws in 23 countries around the world. You can use it to see which countries enforce laws on torrenting, and which do not:

There is no law on downloading copyrighted material Downloading copyrighted material for personal use is allowed
Downloading copyrighted material is always illegal
Marshall Islands Canada* United States
Somalia India* United Kingdom
Iran Colombia
Mexico Egypt
Netherlands* France
Poland Germany
Spain Japan
Switzerland New Zealand
Other EU States
Romania
South Africa
South Korea
Australia
Brazil

*only some kinds of copyrighted material can be downloaded for personal use.

Torrenting Laws In the United States

Downloading and sharing copyrighted material is illegal in the United States. There are two laws that affect torrenting and P2P activity in the US:

American Internet Service Providers (ISP) monitor and store user download data for months or even years. Comcast holds it for at least six months, while AT&T stores it for at least a year.

If you’re torrenting illegally, your ISP will send you a warning letter and probably start throttling your connection speeds. If you’re caught repeatedly and found guilty in legal proceedings, you could be subject to criminal penalties including a $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

Torrenting Laws In the United Kingdom

Torrenting copyrighted material is illegal in the UK. In 2010, the UK government passed the Digital Economy Act to help curb illegal torrenting.

This law forces major UK ISPs to notify customers caught downloading torrents. The notification comes in the form of a cease and desist order.

The legislation also gives UK ISPs the right to throttle speeds and even disconnect users from the internet altogether.

Torrenting Laws In Australia

Downloading and sharing copyrighted material in Australia is illegal. The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill of 2018 allows ISPs to block torrenting sites classified as ‘pirate’ sites as well as any related mirror and proxy sites.

Australian DMCA claim

An example of a DMCA claim sent to an Australian user

Many popular BitTorrent websites like ThePirateBay, Torrentz, and TorrentHound are therefore blocked. Overall, almost 1,000 file-sharing domains are blocked by ISPs like Telstra.

Torrenting Laws In Canada

Since January 2014, the Copyright Modernization Act has required Canadian ISPs like Bell to send notices to copyright violators using their services.

Canadian ISPs are legally entitled to store download and upload data from violating subscribers for at least six months.

Copyright holders cannot sue copyright violators for more than CAD$5,000 if copyrighted material is used for non-commercial purposes.

Canadian law also enables ISPs to throttle file-sharing speeds of users who torrent files.

EXPERT TIP: Regardless of what you’re downloading, P2P software will always expose your IP address, which can be dangerous. To avoid jeopardizing your anonymity, it’s safer to use a secure torrenting VPN along with a safe torrenting client like qBittorrent or uTorrent.

Which Countries Allow Torrenting for Personal Use?

Torrenting copyrighted material isn’t illegal everywhere. Just like VPN laws, some countries don’t enforce copyright claims, and some let you torrent files for personal use.

There are two countries with no laws banning the download of copyrighted material: the Marshall Islands and Somalia. This doesn’t mean it is legal, just that there is no legislative framework for enforcing copyright claims in these countries.

There are a further eight countries where torrenting copyrighted material is allowed for personal use:

  • Canada: If you want to torrent music in Canada, you will likely be protected by a clause in their Copyright Act which allows “copying for Private Use… onto an audio recording medium”. In recent years, attempts to charge users for file sharing have repeatedly failed in Canadian courts.
  • India: India’s copyright law is only defined in commercial terms, not in consumer terms. There is also a distinction between viewing and uploading in India, which means streaming is legal but torrenting is not. Generally speaking though, copyright claims tend to be ignored.
  • Iran: Due to political tensions, Iran and the US have no formal copyright relationship. This means copyright claims from the US are not valid in Iran, and vice versa.
  • Mexico: Mexico’s copyright law is very outdated, and doesn’t account for digital file sharing. The result is that individual torrenting is not explicitly illegal. The consensus is that copyright claims are ignored.
  • The Netherlands: There are explicit protections for personal use in the Netherlands, however these do not apply to software. This means you can legally torrent films and music in The Netherlands.
  • Poland: Poland protects the sharing of copyrighted material for personal use, with no restrictions on the type of file.
  • Spain: In Spain there have been a series of court cases that have found filesharing for personal use legal. Commercial copyright infringement remains illegal, though.
  • Switzerland: Switzerland explicitly allows the sharing of copyrighted material for personal use.

What Is the Punishment for Torrenting?

Even in countries where torrenting copyrighted material is illegal, the consequences vary a lot.

If you get caught torrenting copyrighted content, you could receive a short ban from using your ISP (internet service provider) or a small fine. In some countries, you could be looking at almost a decade in prison.

The United States applies a three-strike rule to anyone caught torrenting copyrighted content. After three strikes, content owners can begin criminal proceedings. After this, anyone found guilty can risk up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000.

Torrenting involves both uploading and downloading files, so users often expose themselves to charges of distributing copyrighted material as well as downloading it. Even so, the maximum penalties listed here are very unlikely to be brought against individual torrenters.

Here’s a table comparing the legal punishments for torrenting copyrighted material in different countries across the world:

Country
Torrenting Penalty
US
Up to $250,000 fine and up to five years prison sentence
UK
£5000 fine and up to five years prison sentence
Australia
Fine
Other EU States
Three strike system with possible internet ban, between €300 to €1000 fine, prison sentences
Brazil
Fine, between three months and a year prison sentence
Colombia
Up to $327,000 fine and up to eight years prison sentence
Egypt
LE10,000 to LE20,000 and minimum three months prison sentence
France
Up to €300,000 fine and up to three years prison sentence
Germany
€3000 fine
New Zealand
Three strikes system with up to NZ$15,000 fine
Japan
Up to ¥2 million fine and up to two years prison sentence
Romania
Up to four years prison sentence
South Africa
Up to R10,000 fine and up to five years prison sentence
South Korea
Three strike system with up to six months internet ban

The legal penalty for torrenting can vary from a small fine to eight years in prison.

What Actually Happens If You Are Caught Torrenting Copyrighted Material?

If you have been caught torrenting copyrighted material, you will probably find out by a letter from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The next step varies significantly by country, but if it is your first offense you will normally just get a warning, rather than any legal response.

Comcast Torrenting Copyright Notice

A copyright notice sent to a Comcast customer.

Copyright trolls identify users from their IP address, which is publicly visible when torrenting. Using your IP address, they can identify and contact your ISP, who will warn you and ask you to stop torrenting before giving your identity to the copyright holder.

Even if you’re torrenting legal files, it can be dangerous to reveal your IP address to the torrenting swarm. The only way to prevent this is by hiding your IP address with a proxy or VPN service.

If you’ve received a legal threat, you should seek proper legal advice immediately. They will be able to help you respond appropriately.

What Is the “Three Strikes” System?

In the last decade, lots of countries have implemented a “three strikes” policy towards piracy. This policy states that users caught torrenting get three warnings from their ISP, and if they don’t stop they will receive either a fine or temporary internet ban.

The policy has been scrapped in most countries, though, including the US and much of the EU. The two most significant countries that still use this system are South Korea and New Zealand.

Will You Get Caught Torrenting?

ISPs and copyright trolls are constantly monitoring P2P networks like Bittorrent and uTorrent to identify who is downloading and sharing copyrighted files. If you live in the US, UK, Australia, or Europe and you torrent these files without using a torrenting VPN, it’s quite possible you will get caught.

Copyright trolls are particularly prevalent in the United States. These are third-parties – usually law firms – that set out to catch copyright violators on behalf of content owners. They can lurk in torrent swarms, even seeding files themselves as bait.

We do not endorse the use of torrenting websites or software to download copyrighted material. There are many sites with free and legal content available through the public domain or creative commons license.

About the Author


  • Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

    Simon Migliano

    Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio