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BitTorrent Movies: 'My Daily Downloads Are Illegal -- For Now'


  First Posted: 01/20/12 04:00 PM ET Updated: 01/20/12 04:50 PM ET

This is a teen-written article from our friends at Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing.

It was a Tuesday, which meant that we had missed the latest episode of 24. It had aired the night before, and most viewers had watched the hour-long program on Fox, sitting through 18 minutes of ads for skin care products, cars, and movies. My family was unwilling to sacrifice so much time to commercials. We had a better way to watch TV.

My mom and uncle sat on the couch behind me while I set up my laptop, connecting it to the TV and putting on the latest episode of 24 in HD with no ads. As I pulled up the show, my mom poured a glass of wine and watched me work.

“Where do you go to download TV shows and movies?” she asked me. Our golden retriever, Max, lay at my uncle’s feet. My uncle is relatively Internet savvy, thanks to his college-age daughters. As he scratched Max’s ears he turned to me and said, “BitTorrent, right?”

I nodded.

“Can you show me how it works?” my mom asked.

When she has computer trouble or questions, I usually teach her whatever she needs to know so she can do it for herself later. The difference this time was that she was asking me to show her how to break the law.

A Bit Illegal

BitTorrent is the new Napster—a method of quickly and stealthily obtaining copyrighted music, movies, games, and software for free. It’s a type of file sharing that allows users to download files from multiple computers anywhere in the world.

Say you want to download a movie. You would go to what’s called a “torrent tracker” website and use a BitTorrent program to search through thousands of other computers to find the movie. When you start “torrenting” a specific movie, multiple computers that have the file send you thousands of tiny pieces of the movie simultaneously. In an hour or so, your computer has automatically put it all together and you’re ready to watch the movie.

However, using BitTorrent to download copyrighted material is illegal because, technically, it’s the same as stealing. The same way you wouldn’t be allowed to use, lend out, or sell your neighbor’s car, copyright laws don’t allow songs, TV shows, movies, and other artistic creations to be copied or sold by anyone other than the owner.

The companies that create and own music, TV shows, and movies argue that illegally downloading a file—as opposed to buying the CD or DVD—harms them because their sales go down and they lose profits. They also argue it makes it hard for the actors, artists, and writers they represent to make a living.