In July, the US authorities arrested Artem Vaulin, the alleged boss of world’s biggest online piracy site, Kickass Torrents, which sent shockwaves among file-sharers. Vaulin is facing criminal charges, with the US accusing him of distributing illegally copied films, music and other content worth over $1 billion. While the action resulted in shutting down of several sites related with Kickass, more famously known as KAT among users, it lasted only for few days. According to media reports, about a dozen of the domains related with KAT are still active; but these do not contain useful torrents (read latest). Torrent users can still use The Pirate Bay and Extratorrents, in addition to several mirror sites of KAT, to download files from the Internet. However, beware; this activity is illegal in several countries, including India. Also, there is always a danger of downloading malware along with the file that may have disastrous consequences for you and your PC or laptop.
What exactly is a torrent? Or how does it work? As you may be aware, there are limitations like bandwidth that prevent us from downloading a file from a single location from the Internet. But the same file can be downloaded in parts from several locations, thus increasing download speed as well as reducing the load on the single file location on the server. For example, collecting Rs10,000 from one individual would be difficult task, but if you request 10 people for Rs1,000 each, you may find it easy to garner the required amount.
This same principle is used in torrent file-sharing. The only difference is that there are protocols for sharing parts of the file from different locations and then making it into a single file for the end-users. For this, there are servers, like Torrentz, that track each peer (a user who is downloading or has downloaded the file). A torrent file does not contain the content to be distributed; it only contains information about those files, such as their names, sizes, folder structure, and cryptographic hash values for verifying file integrity. Depending on the context, a torrent may be the torrent file or the referenced content.
A torrent program, like BitTorrent or uTorrent, connects with this server and with peers after obtaining a list from the server. Based on the popularity of the file (for example, the latest movie), there may be thousands of peers (seeders—who will share parts of the file). The users, or downloaders, are called as leechers. When there are more seeders, you can download the file speedily.
The splitting of files across several locations is the main reason why law enforcement agencies are finding it difficult to completely shut these file-sharing services. In 2014, The Pirate Bay was taken off for a while. It allowed piracy websites, search engines and torrent sites to grow many times. Shutting Kickass may also have a similar impact.
So what is the solution? Two things need to work simultaneously so that we can reduce the instances of piracy and illegal sharing of software, movies and music. One is cost. The cost of authorised files for downloading needs to be reasonable. In fact, cost is the main factor for people to go for pirated versions of software and entertainment content. For entertainment content, over-the-top (OTT) and video-on-demand (VOD) players are trying to make an inroad, using the cost factor effectively.
The second point is bandwidth speed. Despite huge claims by the service-providers and government, the common user is not at all happy with the Internet speed she receives. So, unless there is substantial improvement in Internet speed, downloading or viewing content online will not go up. This will continue to help pirates and torrent sites.