How to Work Around Comcast’s File-Sharing Crackdown

Don’t be scared of technobabble. You can do this.

If you can’t get the Feds to do it, you’d better do it yourself. Starting July 1st, major American Internet service providers will become copyright cops for the MPAA and RIAA in what supporters call one of the most promising anti-piracy efforts in history. ISPs onboard for the multi-million dollar plan include Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Cablevision, Verizon and, of course, Comcast, which connects one-fifth of wired homes. The six-strike “graduated response” program focuses primarily on copyrighted content on BitTorrent, a popular peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing program that allows decentralized downloading by having users snag files from a number of sources or “seeds” across the web.

The real problem here is that the RIAA, MPAA and major ISPs are serving as officer, judge and jury with essentially no checks and balances until you decide to pay $35 for a purportedly independent review board to look over your case (you get the money back if you win). Beyond that, these measures treat the use of BitTorrent as an expressly unscrupulous activity, which is no surprise considering Hollywood’s historical incredulity at tales of legitimate use and the ineffectuality of “piracy” on sales—even as individual artists and celebrities embrace the program’s distribution efficiency.

While this system is far more logical than older methods that led to clogged courts over petty violation claims (mainly for uploading, not downloading), it’s still essentially a bandage over the gaping wound of the entertainment industry’s ever-failing business and distribution model. What’s more, the flaws inherent in the new system render it remarkably easy to bypass. And even if it does work technically, similar European programs have had little effect on file sharing.

So until ol’ Hollywood drops the cop shtick and starts playing businessman again, here are some tips to circumvent the upcoming torrent crackdown:

1. Get a VPN.

This whole monitoring scheme is based around the MPAA and RIAA scanning popular P2P networks and torrent sites for copyrighted material and reporting IP addresses of those in the download swarm to the appropriate ISPs. Naturally, the simplest way to avoid that is to mask your IP address. The easiest way to do that is by subscribing to a Virtual Private Network, a monthly service that routes all web traffic through a set of servers that hide your real IP from public view to ensure privacy. VPNs that don’t store logs of their users’ online activity are best, as they leave no trail to track. Popular P2P-centric VPN providers include BTGuard, Ipredator, StrongVPN and TorGuard.

2. Use a proxy service.

Professional geeks usually pull this term out to confound the technically illiterate, but don’t let the technobabble scare you. Proxy services operate similarly to VPNs, but they don’t re-route all of your Internet traffic through a set of remote servers. Instead, proxies simply mask certain programs and protocols, making them simpler in function than many VPNs and particularly useful for BitTorrent. There are many services aimed at torrent users, but TorrentPrivacy and BTGuard’s proxy service are popular choices due to the encryption services and built-in download clients they provide. A bonus over VPNs: Less fuss means faster speeds overall.

3. Buy a seedbox.

If you’re a hardcore torrenter (or just paranoid), VPNs and proxy services might not offer the level of convenience and function that you want or need. Essentially torrent-ese for “dedicated high-speed server,” seedboxes provide users with anonymity by downloading torrent files to a remote machine not attached to their IP address. From there, the files can be downloaded to the user’s primary computer without BitTorrent, allowing for a secure and anonymous process. Beyond security and anonymity, seedboxes also offer extremely fast upload and download speeds, with most providers hosting boxes over 100Mbit connections. They aren’t cheap (around $100 monthly on average), but popular seedbox hawkers include Superseedbox, Dediseedbox and Extremeseed.

4. Access a closed torrent community.

Because the MPAA and RIAA will be scanning open P2P networks and torrent sites like The Pirate Bay (and because they have to join the download swarm to see who else is downloading), private torrent communities are much less likely to be monitored. The downside is that most private torrent trackers require users to maintain a download/upload ratio of 1:1, lest they incur penalties like the banhammer (and uploading, in terms of legality, is a big no-no). To get into one of these sites, a member must invite you to register, so you literally need to know a guy. If you can manage, though, preferred sites include Demonoid, PassThePopcorn and What.CD.

5. Consider alternative methods.

By focusing primarily on torrenting, the MPAA and RIAA are only monitoring a fraction of the file-sharing sources that Internet users utilize, which leaves a slew of other options wide open. All-but-forgotten utilities such as Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and Usenet are still hotbeds of file-sharing activity. The ever-growing Freenet project, which offers users the ability to share files, chat and browse anonymously, is another good alternative to BitTorrent and currently has around two million users. Streaming portals such as Hulu, Veoh and even YouTube offer full video streams of television and movies. And then, of course, there are the digital storage lockers such as MediaFire, YouSendIt and RapidShare, which allow users to simply upload and distribute large files without being tracked.