Torrenting is a hugely popular online activity, and a great way to find the music, TV, games, or films that you love. At any given moment, millions of people are sharing files across P2P networks, driving copyright holders mad.
But have you ever wondered how these sites came about, and who benefits from their operation? Relatively few people are aware of the ins and outs of torrenting – even hardcore downloaders. That’s why we’ve pulled together a quick primer about what torrenting is, and who benefits.
Introducing torrenting: how does it work?
From the user’s perspective, torrenting is extremely simple. It’s a convenient way to connect with other users on the web, which uses P2P clients to establish direct connections.
By combining numerous users with the same files on their systems, torrent clients can achieve incredibly quick download speeds. Hence, torrenting is a massive scene among music and movie pirates. There’s no better way to shift large quantities of data within large communities of sharers.
All of this is achieved through some extremely clever programming. On the one hand, the torrent file format contains the metadata needed to ensure uniformity across all torrenters. Without a standardized format, it wouldn’t be possible to bring large numbers of uploaders together.
Secondly, clients like BitTorrent are able to use this file format via torrenting protocols. Thanks to the metadata held by torrents, they can divide huge files into manageable chunks, and vastly improve download speeds.
In between, you’ll find trackers. These tools aggregate torrents into databases which can be searched. This lets you connect with swarms of seeders with the same file.
Where have all the torrent sites gone?
However, things have changed a lot in recent years. In the past, sites like PirateBay, Extratorrent, and Torrentz became famous as places to search for the torrents users needed. They were able to collect together millions of seeders, providing an easy way to find reliable links.
And that was their downfall. Starting in 2009, the founders of PirateBay were subjected to legal prosecution, and the site went underground. The search engine lived on (and still does) but in a limited fashion.
Other torrent sites haven’t lasted as long. For example, ExtraTorrent once profited at PirateBay’s expense. However, in 2017 the site voluntarily shut its doors. Mirrors popped up, and can still be found with the help of a VPN. But the core site has never reappeared.
Clearly, the world’s authorities have decided that torrent sites are a strategic target. This has made it tougher for people in countries like the UK, the USA, and France to find the torrents they desire. However, as a list of alternatives to Extratorrent and ThePiratebay shows, it’s been impossible to suppress torrent aggregators.
Who profits from the vast torrenting community?
So who has benefit from the existence of torrents? Probably not movie makers, musicians, or game programmers, who have seen their creations pirated continuously since P2P went mainstream.
You could say that ordinary entertainment fans have benefited. There’s no doubt that downloaders have had access to more content than ever before – as long as they are willing to risk malware and the attention of copyright holders.
But big money has been earned by site operators. Back in 2008, TechCrunch reported that the PirateBay netted its owners $4 million per year.
If you used the site then, you’d understand how. Sites like PirateBay were plagued by adverts which popped up with every download (often featuring unexpectedly adult themes).
The same kind of business model enriched ExtraTorrent’s founder, earning a profit margin of 94% in 2013. Across the sector as a whole, that same year torrent portals reportedly made $23 million – all from ads. That’s some serious cash.
Ways to torrent quickly and safely
If you’re happy to continue torrenting the music and films you love, security should be a top priority. As we’ve discussed already, while the sites above made a lot of money, both of them have been taken down. In PirateBay’s case, the founders spent 6 years in jail. And torrent downloaders have been pursued as well.
The entertainment industry is turning its sights on torrenters more and more, with ISPs coming under pressure to issue warnings, and prosecutions on the horizon.
However, you can avoid that by finding a reliable, torrent-friendly VPN. Virtual Private Networks shield your downloads via encryption and assign you an anonymous IP address. Put together, and these protections should throw investigators off your scent, and allow stress-free downloads.
Not all VPNs are up to the task of defending torrenters, though. Look for providers which offer 256-bit AES encryption, kill switches, OpenVPN protocols, and reliable IP leak protection. In other words, avoid free VPNs and opt for high-end paid providers.
ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, PIA, PureVPN, and NordVPN are all torrent-friendly providers, and any of them should do the trick. Just remember: torrenting without VPN protection is courting catastrophe. As law enforcement starts to crack down, don’t be caught out.