The news that the torrent archive and search site TorrentSpy will be shutting down access to U.S. users is understandable. In advance of an American court’s impending decision over whether or not to require the site to turn over logs of IP addresses from users visiting the site, the shutdown will protect users from accidentally revealing their online identity to prosecutors — even if those users are searching for public domain material, or are rights holders themselves attempting to monitor unauthorized distribution and issue takedown notices under the DMCA.
What’s perplexing is that lawyers are going after the site at all. TorrentSpy.com hosts no unauthorized content. Nor does it host trackers, the server-side software accessible via URL that keeps tabs on where seeders and peers can be found by far-flung clients. All it does is host the .torrent pointer files that store information about the tracker and a checksum hash of the files to be downloaded. But all is not lost. There are plenty of other places to go; there are even ways to get around the ban.
For starters, TorrentSpy is just one of dozens of torrent search engines. Lately, my favorite has been Torrentz, which is a meta-search tool indexing multiple sites — and search queries from Torrentz are logged as originating from that site’s server IP, not yours. Since most torrent uploaders post the same torrent to multiple sites, including Mininova, The Pirate Bay and Suprnova, there are probably few torrents available on TorrentSpy that can’t be found elsewhere.
The other way to access TorrentSpy is to use an extra-national proxy server, which will both allow access to TorrentSpy and protect your IP from being logged. I’ve got Tor and the FoxyProxy extension for Firefox installed specifically so that, if necessary, I can pretend to be from a different country to get around such bans — sort of like how Yankee tourists will sew a maple leaf patch on their bag before touring abroad.
Once you’ve downloaded a torrent from TorrentSpy using a proxy, your client application will still reveal your IP address to the tracker and peers while sharing. Proxies to the rescue again! Here’s a guide to set up my favorite BitTorrent client, Azureus, to work with Tor — though it may slow your downloads down a bit as packets bounce around between often geographically distant servers.
It just goes to show how little understanding rights holders (and the courts) have about the technology. They’d have much more success stemming the tide in the short term by going after the trackers, and using the torrent file search engines and archives to do it. In the meantime, BitTorrent and other clients have built in support for distributed tracking. So while the content overlords gnash their teeth and release their lawyer hounds, the geeks have given themselves a head start in running around such outdated restrictions.
What would be a good long-term strategy? How about embracing the technology and coming up with ways to profit from it?