Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Is downloading .torrent files without downloading the files they point to a problem?


I just found my brother downloading some .torrent files from an obsolete
torrent site. He didn’t download the real files after the torrents, but just the
.torrent files. I deleted these files (.torrent), but I’m worried if it will be
a problem. Is downloading .torrent files illegal even if there are no further
downloads using that .torrent file?

In this excerpt from
Answercast #53
, I look at a situation where .torrent files were downloaded,
but the copyrighted material they were pointed to was not downloaded.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Are Torrent files illegal?

The short answer is: there’s nothing wrong with a .torrent file itself. The
.torrent file only contains pointers or information as to where the actual
content will be found. It’s the actual content that is usually copyright
protected and illegal.

The .torrent file itself is pretty benign. Nobody’s going to take legal
action against you or anything like that because of it.

Torrent downloads

It’s like I said – the files that it points to… the files that are
downloaded by running a .torrent file (by firing up BitTorrent and downloading
these large, massive movies and music collections):

  • Those are the things that cause problems.

  • Those are the things that are typically in violation of copyright;

  • And those are the things that you want to avoid.

So, again, I’m not a lawyer so this isn’t a legal opinion by any stretch,
but in my opinion in your situation, I wouldn’t be concerned. I think
catching this before the actual files were downloaded means that you’re
probably pretty safe.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

2 comments on “Is downloading .torrent files without downloading the files they point to a problem?”

  1. IAAL. A Dutch court ruled this week that pointers to copyrighted material (nude shots of a well-known newscaster) were illegal. I think U.S. copyright holders are already preparing lawsuits on the same theory.

  2. There is also a lot of legal downloading by Bittorrent, such as Ubuntu or many other Linux distros. It has numerous advantages over doing a straight download.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.