Is file sharing or torrents illegal or legal?

Updated: 12/30/2019 by Computer Hope
Anonymous individual using a laptop.

Computer Hope does not provide legal advice or representation. This page was created solely to provide general information for readers who have 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 Copyrighted content with other people, this is considered illegal. Below are examples of when 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. Examples of Copyrighted or otherwise protected data are:

  • A popular song that you'd buy online or at the store.
  • A movie that you'd see at a movie theater or buy on DVD (digital versatile disc).
  • A TV show that could be sold as a DVD.
  • A program or game you'd buy at a store.

Are P2P programs such as BitTorrent, KaZaA, Napster, etc. legal?

The programs or technologies behind file sharing are not illegal. It's the data being shared that is illegal. Using BitTorrent or other file sharing programs to download a software patch, a game demo, movie trailer, or similar is legal. However, using that same program to download a new hit song or a movie still in theaters is illegal.

What could happen if I get caught?

If you participate in illegal Copyright infringement, the consequences depend on current federal statue, and the statues of your local jurisdiction. You may be fined for each song, movie, or program 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 was sentenced to a maximum of four years in prison for sharing files on a BitTorrent 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. The longer you continue downloading copyrighted or protected material, the more likely you'll be caught.