Despite several high profile, online piracy cases that featured large awards against those who use the Internet for illegal file sharing and downloads, many Internet users remain unaware of what illegal downloads actually are, or what the consequences can be. We help our readers to learn more about this practice and discuss the pitfalls so that you can avoid the repercussions.
What Exactly is Illegal Downloading and File Sharing?
Most of the time, it’s obvious when use content from an illegal download or file share. Online sites still exist for the sole purpose of exchanging pirated material such as the latest popular music, movies, shows and games. If you find yourself on a website, particularly a peer to peer network, that offers to let you watch the latest material for “free” you are probably viewing material under copyright that has been pirated.
Using illegal downloads is easier than you might think. One way that you might unwittingly share pirated files would be to open and share emails and other files that contain material under copyright.
How Pervasive is Illegal File Sharing and Downloading?
Earlier in 2014, The Guardian and other online journals reported on the results of a University of Portsmouth study that claim most Internet Users have illegally downloaded at least one file, and that the average person has about 2,900 illegal music downloads and 90 illegal film downloads on their computer. The News covered the same study, while also reporting that illegal downloads cost the U.S. music industry over 12 billion dollars a year, while also costing the American movie industry 20 billion dollars annually. With such a great economic cost, it’s little wonder that ISPs and others are banding together to more closely monitor Internet users and their downloads while also stepping up the penalties for illegal downloads and file shares.
The Pitfalls of Illegal Downloading and File Sharing
The following is a partial list of the potential repercussions for using pirated material.
Under Federal law, you can face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each offense of downloading or sharing pirated material. While prosecutions are rare, they do happen.
Many of the websites that offer obvious illegal file shares contain dangerous files such as viruses, malware and spyware on their site. When you illegally download a pirated movie, show or song, you are essentially trusting the site to not send data within the file that could harm or slow the operation of your computer. Identity theft, and serious damage to your computer or other platform is a very real, and likely, consequence of using an illegal download. If you are visiting a site that offers free content or combined with a deal that seems to be “too good to be true” it probably is and you should avoid the site.
Your ISP may seriously limit your bandwidth if they notice that you are visiting sites associated with illegal downloads. While this might not seem like a serious consequence, most websites and apps require speeds greater than dial-up to work and display properly. Also, many Internet users mistakenly believe that they must run afoul of the Copyright Alert System and be notified several times that they have used illegal file shares before their internet speed will be throttled. While a slower internet speed may be the result of receiving several notices under the system, many ISPs will go ahead and slow your connection speed if they notice you are visiting these sites and using large amounts of bandwidth.
The Copyright Alert System is also known as “the six strikes,” system. With this system, owners of copyrighted material, such as the RIAA, search the internet for illegal copies of the material that the own. The copyright owners then send the IP addresses of those who have illegally downloaded their material to the ISPs who then contact their customers to notify them that it has been noticed that they have been using illegal downloads.
The first couple of notices are usually simple emails that tell the user that they have been found to have illegally obtained copyrighted material. The second set of notifications normally provides education about what is and is not an illegal download and will encourage the user to use an approved site, such as iTunes or Netflix to legally obtain files of popular shows and music. The fifth and sixth notifications usually advise the customer that their internet speed has been drastically slowed. Sometimes this will only be for a few days, but in some instances the user may be permanently blocked by the ISP from certain sites.
While some ISPs allow the customer to appeal the ruling, they will need to pay a small filing fee to do so. Continued illegal downloading is likely to lead to the owner of the copyrighted material pursuing legal action against the downloader.
Since there are many sites that offer a legal downloads of popular songs, movies and shows for a small fee, such as iTunes, Hulu Plus and Netflix, it really doesn’t make sense for users to knowingly continue to seek illegal file shares and downloads.
Have you ever used illegal downloads to watch a popular show — and then experience bad consequences? Let us know in the comments section below how you feel about illegal downloads. Don’t forget to check out other helpful related articles while on our site. We can help you discover how to legally download music as well as learn more about why an ISP might throttle your connection speed.