Legality of Torrenting in The UK

a couple watching tv with popcorn.

When people say torrenting, they usually mean streaming movies online. During the torrenting process, you download and upload a file via the BitTorrent network. It’s also called peer-to-peer sharing. Generally, using torrenting technology isn’t illegal in the UK. However, it all depends on the file being shared. Particularly, sharing copyrighted materials, which you haven’t paid for, isn’t lawful in the UK.

Torrenting copyrighted media is illegal in the UK. Streaming and torrenting movies on suspicious sites isn’t lawful in the UK. You can receive a fine of up to £5,000 or spend six months under arrest.

Many people watch movies online via second-party websites without even thinking twice. By exposing your IP address when torrenting, you’re making yourself vulnerable to ISPs and copyright lawyers. VPNs are often recommended as a way to shield your online activities. NordVPN is the best provider out there.

Can you stream or torrent movies in the UK?

Generally, streaming and torrenting are legal in the UK. However, streaming movies in the UK can be risky if you aren’t aware of current laws. If the “torrent” is of copyrighted material, for example, a film, music, TV show, or game, then it’s illegal – as in most countries.

Streaming pirated (illegally copied) movies, series, or sports is illegal. Downloading or distribution of such files is punishable in the UK.

You can receive a warning or pay a fine if you get caught. Fines for violating copyright laws can be as high as £5,000. But if you do it correctly, you can stream or torrent movies without getting in trouble.

Is downloading movies illegal in the UK?

If you download movies using BitTorrent technology, it’s not illegal in the UK. Therefore, using torrenting software like BitTorrent to share files is in itself not against English law. BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol. There are ways to use it 100% safe and lawful.

However, if it’s used to share copyrighted files like movies, music, or books, it does become illegal. In 2017, the British copyright law, or CPDA in particular, made the process of using and sharing copyrighted materials illegal. People found guilty of online copyright theft can face up to 10 years in prison. However, no one has yet gone to jail for streaming movies online.

Yes, theoretically, you could be prosecuted for illegal downloading in the UK. However, the authorities rather focus on taking down the hosts of free movie streaming sites and the providers of illicit streaming devices.

What is British CPDA? The CPDA law protects all intellectual property works, subject to copyright, from infringement, where infringement can involve copying the work or giving it to the public without authorization.

Torrenting means peer-to-peer sharing of files. Therefore, if you use this technology to share copyrighted files, you are infringing the owner’s copyright rights.

Making the copy, or just having it saved on your hard drive, is a criminal offense with a maximum of 6 months and/or a £5,000 fine.

Read more about what is illegal to download on a web in the UK.

Dangers of illegal streaming sites

Illegal streaming sites can bring other troubles besides legal offenses. As you may have noticed, free movie streaming sites are full of ads and pop-ups. Furthermore, you might be vulnerable to malware and viruses on such sources.

Consequences of illegally streaming movies online:

  • Identity theft

According to a recent study by FACT, 62% of people in the UK are oblivious to the risks inherent to online piracy. Nowadays, your data is worth a lot of money, and one of the main crafts of streaming websites is extracting your social media credentials or personal bank and card information.

  • Viruses/Hacking

In addition to your personal information potentially being stolen, you’re in immediate danger of unintentionally downloading viruses or being hacked. That’s why you need good antivirus software installed on all your devices.

  • Sanctions from ISPs

Your ISP (internet provider) can track you! ISPs constantly monitor internet traffic in search of illegal downloads or streaming services. Illegal streamers usually receive a written cease and desist letter. ISPs can terminate their internet services and even report unlawful activity to the authorities if they fail to comply.

Additionally, many ISPs implement speed throttling or total blocking of p2p traffic, thus making torrenting practically impossible. To prevent all these issues, you need to use a VPN service.

Choose a service that can conceal your IP address and encrypt your traffic while still providing you with a decent speed at a reasonable price, such as NordVPN.

  • Damage to the industry

You must understand that you harm the film industry by watching pirated movies online. According to The Telegraph, due to copyright theft in 2015, the UK’s creative sector loses approximately £500 million a year.

How to figure out if the streaming site is illegal?

Usually, suspicious torrenting sites are easy to recognize, but some of them can look like absolute legit movie platforms. 

Therefore, you should pay extra attention to whether a site makes a dubious or illegal impression or not.

Here are some elements of illegal streaming sites:

  • brand-new movies and series
  • poor film quality, often filmed directly in the cinema
  • aggressive advertising 
  • pop up ads
  • the imprint is missing
  • contact possibilities are missing
  • the country code is strange (look at the domain)
  • movies and series are offered for free
  • no streaming app in the app store

Illegal streaming also can be recognized if money is charged for access to better quality. Or if you can only watch something from particular countries, hence, by using VPN.

Punishment for illegal downloading in the UK in 2022

So, what actually happens if you get caught torrenting illegal content? The owner of the copyrighted material can bring action against you for infringement by torrenting.

In that case, you’d have to defend yourself in court and pay damages if you lose. That’s a more common scenario than criminal proceedings.

The CDPA (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act) provides the basis for criminal proceedings.

They include:

  • monetizing copyrighted materials and sharing with the public.
  • knowing that the material is copyrighted and either intending to profit off it or knowing that sharing will cause losses to the owner.

The CDPA penalties are:

  • 6 months and/or an unlimited fine upon sentencing in Magistrates Court
  • 10 years and /or a fine upon indictment by the Crown Court

Is it safe to download torrents in the UK?

Downloading torrents isn’t safe. Most free popular streaming sites are unsafe and pose a security threat to your data and devices. You must at least use VPN to protect your privacy online.

Generally, it’s not illegal to download torrents in the UK. This technology is perfectly fine from a legal standpoint. But if you’re downloading pirated movies or software, it’s illegal and, therefore, unsafe. By doing so, you are infringing the copyright right of the owner.

So it’s not the fact of distribution via torrent file-sharing that makes the act illegal or unsafe but which material it contains. Therefore, you can download torrents with no issue, but if you download (making a copy) of copyright material, it’s copyright theft, which is punished by the state.

When you torrent a movie, you are sharing this file with other downloaders simultaneously. Meaning when you torrent a movie, you also share it with others. While you do this, your IP address is visible to everyone, including the copyright lawyers. This is why it’s so easy to catch people who torrent movies.

Furthermore, on most streaming sites, you’re asked to install some additional media player, which usually comes with hidden malware, making your device vulnerable to viruses and hacking. On top of that, your viewing history is always saved and then sold to third parties.

Hence, you need to take precautions. Using VPN will protect your privacy while torrenting.

To ensure your safety when streaming online, always follow these guidelines:

  1. Make sure that you’re using a good VPN service. Reliable VPN providers will keep you completely anonymous, as well as block any activity trackers and traffic monitoring. It’ll protect your personal information from being distributed to ISPs and other third parties.
  2. Don’t share your personal information on suspicious websites. The information you supply to illegal streaming sites doesn’t serve any other purpose than later being sold for profit.
  3. Don’t download files from suspicious websites. You never know what can happen. The Internet is full of viruses and malware.
  4. Always use a combination of antivirus and an ad-blocker to ensure protection from hackers and malware.

When is streaming legal?

Streaming is totally legal when it’s done via legitimate streaming options. There are plenty of legal streaming platforms. You can stream anything by subscribing to one of the official services like Netflix for £5.99 a month. 

One can also enjoy one for the free trial period, which usually lasts several months. The quality of legal providers is much better than on illegal streaming platforms.

However, it’s never legal to watch movies that are currently playing in cinemas. You can see them exceptionally in cinemas.

Reputable streaming sites have acquired the rights of use for the media, so users don’t confront any copyright infringements.

Therefore, you will be 100% on the safe side when using reputable providers such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. They all have appropriate licenses where authors have permission to use their work. 

Reputable and well-known streaming providers working in the UK are:

  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Apple TV+
  • Disney+
  • NOW
  • BritBox

Torrenting movies with a VPN in the UK

a woman using VPN in her laptop.

Digital savvy torrenters use VPN services or virtual private networks to hide their internet activity from ISP. Using a VPN makes torrenting much safer. When you torrent movies with a VPN, the remote server sees the VPN’s IP address, not yours.

This means that copyright lawyers cannot see your IP address. They can’t easily trace illegal downloads back to you. Consequently, you should use a VPN service to protect your online activities from your ISP and other parties.

What should your VPN have to make torrenting safe in the UK?

  1. It doesn’t keep a log of your activity
  2. Isn’t based in the UK
  3. Is fast enough that it won’t slow your downloads

Otherwise, lawyers and other third parties can’t easily trace your illegal streaming. Therefore, using a VPN makes torrenting much safer. In the UK, check out NordVPN or ExpressVPN.

How to torrent safely in the UK?

If you keep your online activity private, you can torrent safely. Note that while a VPN for torrenting will keep your activity confidential and safe from the eyes of other parties, you may still be vulnerable to malware from some public torrent sites. Follow these 5 steps to torrent privately with a VPN.

  1. Download and install a VPN matching the criteria mentioned above. We recommend NordVPN/ExpressVPN.
  2. Enable your VPN’s kill switch
  3. Connect to a VPN server, preferably in a P2P-friendly country
  4. After the connection is established, open your torrent client and start downloading as usual
  5. Your online activity is now encrypted by your VPN

Furthermore, VPNs come with extra benefits:

  • They let you see shows and videos that are only available in other countries
  • They let you see websites that are blocked in your country
  • They increase your online privacy by adding a layer of anonymity

You might be exposed regardless. For example, your IP address will be exposed if your VPN connection drops. To prevent this issue, you should set up a VPN killswitch. It will cut the internet connection if you are not connected to your VPN.

Why do you need a VPN to watch movies online?

Using a VPN will protect you from the dangers of illegal movie streaming sites and give you the freedom to access free premium TV streaming sites while also unlocking the full potential of paid streaming services with geographically restricted content.

Best VPN providers in the UK


A world-renowned VPN provider with over ten years of experience. 

They offer affordable prices, great speed, and privacy protection. NordVPN provides a kill switch.

  • Get from £2,61 per month
  • 30-day full refund policy
  • Dedicated servers for torrenting/streaming
  • Excellent ad-blocker
  • No data cap
  • Perfect for streaming and torrenting


As one of the best VPN services out there, ExpressVPN has more than 3,000 servers across 160 locations in 94 countries. 

  • Ultrafast speeds
  • Strict no-logs policy 
  • Automatic kill switch
  • Split tunneling
  • 24/7 support
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