Is file sharing or torrents illegal or legal?

Anonymous file sharer

Notice: Computer Hope is not meant to be used as legal advise or representation. This document is general information to assist users who've asked this question on our site.

Is file sharing illegal?

No, it's 100% legal. In no state in the United States or in any other country is file sharing illegal. However, if you're sharing content that is protected by copyrights to other users it is illegal. Below are some good examples of where file sharing becomes illegal in many places around the world.

  1. Downloading or sharing a copyrighted movie.
  2. Sharing copyrighted songs (music) to other people who have not purchased those songs or downloading songs from other people when you've not purchased that song.
  3. Sharing or downloading computer software (programs, games, etc.).
  4. Downloading or sharing a copyrighted TV show or program.

How do I know if something is copyrighted?

A good general rule to follow is to think about if the song, movie, or other software can be purchased. A popular song that you'd buy online or at store, a movie that you'd see at a movie theater or buy on DVD, a TV show that could be sold as a DVD, or a software program or game you'd buy at a store are all good examples of copyrighted or otherwise protected data.

Are P2P programs such as Bittorrent, Kazaa, Napster, etc. legal?

The programs or technologies behind file sharing are not illegal, it's data being shared that may be illegal. Using Bittorrent or other file sharing programs to download a software patch or update a game demo, movie trailer, etc. is legal. However, using that same program to get a new hit song or a movie still in theaters is illegal.

What could happen if I get caught?

This all depends on your local laws. However, a good example of what could happen is a fine for each song, movie, or software you've downloaded or shared. If you've downloaded hundreds of songs or other files this could be a large fine if found guilty. In Hong Kong a man has also been sentenced to a maximum of four years in prison for sharing files on a BitTorent website.

I haven't been caught.

Although it's very likely you or someone you know has not been caught for sharing or downloading copyrighted or otherwise protected data it's still considered illegal. If caught you could be convicted of a crime by your local laws.

Additional information