Let's say that I am downloading pirated material (pdf books) via bittorrent because I can not afford to pay for the items.

If I later say (admit) that I'm downloading and using these pirated materials, would I be fined / jailed?

What are the legal risks I'm exposing myself to if I say it? How likely am I to be arrested / charged?

I'm living in the U.S.

  • 4
    I frequently boast about my downloading exploits (movies, books, songs, etc.) to friends and have never gotten into trouble. Note though that I have never taken the trouble to write the big movie/music production companies a signed affidavit listing all my illegal downloads, so perhaps that is why I have been lucky.
    – user43
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 15:58

2 Answers 2


Piracy opens the person engaging in it up for a civil lawsuit. It also opens the person up to criminal liability, although enforcement of non-commercial copyright infringement is relatively rare. Using bittorrent once could make a person liable for felony copyright infringement depending on the value of the work and the number of copies made with the assistance of the person's bittorrent client.

Most technology used for piracy is also insecure--bittorrent, for example, works by sending out advertisements to many people saying that you would like to copy their file, and could they please send you a small bit of it. Although the book publishing companies do not usually spend much time worrying about this, the other media publishing companies do (and hire investigators to be those other people you sent messages to). Book publishing companies can change their minds. Generally, piracy is a bad idea.

Mentioning it not only provides evidence against the defendant if the publisher chooses to sue (possible) or the police choose to arrest them (unlikely but possible), but also raises the possibility of harm to reputation or not getting a job in the future.

For example, a major movie reviewer in 2009 reviewed a workprint copy of Wolverine and was immediately fired.

But openly discussing past criminal activity is also usually a sign of bad judgment that employers will not look on with understanding. If a simple google search shows the employee discussing his criminal history, even if it is over a relatively controversial area of law such as copyright violation, many employers will move on to the next applicant.


It depends on the situation.

For example, if you worked for a book publisher who publishes e-books, and you admit publicly that you are pirating e-books, you might get fired. If you are in any situation where it is important that you show you are a law-abiding citizens who respects intellectual property, then this would get you into a bad position.

Or if the sources for your PhD thesis come from pirated books, that's not something you should admit in public - you might ask on academia.stackexchange.com, but it might put your thesis at risk.

Legally - in most jurisdictions what you do wouldn't be a crime, but a civil matter. So the police wouldn't come after you. You could be sued, taken to court, and fined, but that's not likely to happen, because you are probably a small fish not worth taking to court, and the fact that you admitted it doesn't mean you actually did.

  • As far as academic ethics are concerned, generally nobody checks into how exactly you obtained copies of the sources you cite. Of course, that's not a legal matter.
    – David Z
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 15:36

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