Download – the ultimate guide: techniques, risks, legal or illegal

Downloading is the process of saving files from the internet to your computer, smartphone, tablet or other connected device. Find out everything you need to know about it: definition, different methods and techniques, differences between illegal and legal downloading, security risks…

Before the internet, it was necessary to buy a VHS to watch a moviea record to listen to music, a book to read a novel. Even the software was sold on CD-ROMs.

From now on, the download allows you to get any type of content in digital format. This practice has totally revolutionized the way we consume multimedia content.

However, there is a flip side to this: illegal downloading of protected works by copyright is a veritable scourge that authorities around the world are trying to combat…

Through this complete file, you will discover all the facets of downloading. However, does not promote illegal downloading. Remember that there are nowadays many legal platforms for multimedia content.

Examples include Spotify for music streaming, or Netflix for streaming movies and series. These services deliver a very complete catalogue for the price of a monthly subscription, and thus allow you to access to many works while remunerating their authors.

What is downloading? How does it work?

Before going into more detail on the different download techniques or the different types of downloadable content, it is important to Understand what downloading is all about.

First of all, we can distinguish the notions of “upload” and “download”.both translated by “download” into French. To put it simply, an “upload” is comparable to a sending. The file or data is uploaded to the internet.

When uploading a file to a server or another computer, we send the data from his computer to the destination device. For example, an image “upload” to Facebook consists of sending an image from one’s computer or PC to the Facebook servers.

Even a simple internet search is actually an upload.. For example, when you search for a video on YouTube, each term entered in the search bar sends a tiny amount of data to the website server.

On the contrary, the “download” consists in receiving a file or data from a server or another computer, via the Internet. A “download” on the web therefore means transferring data from a device to your own computer, smartphone or tablet.

On the internet, he’s possible to download all kinds of content and file types: movies, software, music, books, pictures… some downloads are free, but many download platforms are paying.

It is for example the case of the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. On these platforms, many of the files available for download are paid for. These can be applications, but also songs, videos or documents.

Even when you visit a web pageWhen you click on the “Download” button, you download the images and text from the server to your computer. The web page file in htm or html format is then displayed by your web browser.

There are different network protocols for downloads. FTP uses FTP clients and servers to send and receive data between two devices. HTTP is used for downloading via a web browser.

There are, however, many methods of downloading, and it is important to distinguish between legal and illegal downloading. That is what we are going to discuss in detail in this matter.

What is the purpose of the download?

There are many reasons to download files. For example, you may want to a local copy of a document in order to make changes.

Maybe you want to download a music to listen to it, or a movie to watch it. Whatever the reason and the type of file you want to download, downloading a file relies on the same processes.

DDL, Torrent, P2P, Streaming… different download methods and techniques

There are many download techniques different. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Peer to Peer (P2P) or peer-to-peer sharing

The peer-to-peer file sharingThe most common method of downloading in the past was often abbreviated to P2P. It consists of downloading a file directly from other Internet users who already have it on their hard drive.

The download is not done directly on a web browser, as with direct download, but by means of a specific software. This software allows you to locate the computers that have the file you are looking for. These are not the servers of a hosting company, but simple computers belonging to private individuals.

From the dedicated software, the user sends a request for the file he wants to download. The software then searches for the file among all the computers that use it and are connected to the Internet. The download starts as soon as a computer holding the file is located.

As soon as you’ve downloaded a file, other Internet users can in turn download it from your computer via the same software. However, the transfer load is distributed among the different computers that have the file.

Among the most popular P2P softwareWe can cite Gnutella, Kazaa, or the famous eMule that used to reign over illegal downloading in France. However, authorities such as HADOPI now monitor P2P downloading very closely.

In fact, it is the sharing of a downloaded file that is considered to be evidence of piracy by HADOPI, not its download. This is why direct downloading is now preferred for illegal downloading.

The torrent

Torrenting is a downloading technique based on the BitTorrent network. Rather than downloading files stored on a central server, this method involves downloading files from the computers of other users on the network. It is therefore a form of P2P file sharing.

This technique requires the use of a torrent management software to connect to the BitTorrent network. This software can be downloaded for free, on PC or mobile. Among the most well-known are BitComet or uTorrent.

The “trackers” like The Pirate Bay or KickassTorrents… allows to search for magnet links and Torrent files, allowing to find network users hosting the searched file on their computers.

The torrenting itself is not illegal.. However, the BitTorrent network is frequently used for sharing copyrighted files. This network is heavily monitored by Internet service providers and authorities.

The BitTorrent protocol has become the most popular P2P sharing medium following the decline of centralized services such as Napster or Limewire.

Direct Download Link (DDL) or direct download link

A Direct Download Link is a hypertext link on a web site that allows you to download a file directly from a hosting server. Just click on the link to start the download.

This is a alternative to other techniques of downloading. Any type of file can be downloaded with this method: a video, a music, a software…

Over the last few years, direct downloading has been hugely popular in the area of illegal downloading. For good reason: it is much more difficult for the authorities to monitor and prevent it.

There are several reasons for this. First of all, if the downloaded file is hosted on a server located abroad, HADOPI cannot intervene right now. Furthermore, in the case of illegal downloading, the evidence relied upon by HADOPI is not the downloading of the file itself, but the sharing of that file with other Internet users via P2P. Direct downloading therefore leaves no evidence.

Direct download links are frequently used by hackers to distribute malware. For example, the Internet user thinks of clicking on a link to download a movie, and is actually downloading a virus which will be installed immediately on his PC.

There are platforms with direct download links, such as the French website Zone-Téléchargeement. However, the links aggregated on these sites actually refer to files stored in the on the servers of various hosting companies like 1file, Mega or UpToBox.


Increasingly popular in the Cloud age, data streaming represents an alternative to downloading. This method is particularly used for multimedia content such as movies or songs.

For example, film streaming platforms such as Netflix allow you to watch movies directly on a web browser without needing to save them on the device. There are also many applications that can be accessed directly on the web.

The streaming has several strong points. It saves the storage capacity of a device, since the file does not need to be backed up. In addition, it is possible to watch a streaming movie immediately and without having to wait for the download to be complete.

However, if you plan to watch a movie or listen to music without an internet connection, traditional downloading is still essential. The streaming needs to be connected to the internet.

There are a number ofIllegal streaming platformsThe “Copyright” section of the site allows you to view copyrighted content. Many Internet users, for example, watch football matches in streaming mode illegally, instead of paying a subscription fee to specialised TV channels.

This method of downloading is more recent, and is therefore not always as tightly monitored and regulated. Streaming, for example, is not considered illegal in India, and no one has yet been convicted in the United States. On the other hand, it is an practice prohibited in France and the United Kingdom.

What is illegal downloading and what are the risks?

It is very important to distinguish between legal and illegal downloading. Since the early days of the internet, illegal sharing of music, films or software is a real problem that authorities around the world are trying to fight.

What is legal downloading?

Legal downloading concerns several content categories. You can legally download the files whose creators allow free sharing: royalty-free music and images, Open Source software…

The same goes for public domain files. A content falls into the public domain if its author author authorizes it, or after the intellectual property has expired. The length of copyright can vary, but old movies, music and video games are often freely downloadable. Such files can be downloaded from libraries, universities or other cultural preservation organizations.

Finally, there are many legal download platforms. Some allow you to download files on a pay-per-use basis, such as the App Store or the Google Play Store. Others give you unlimited access to content for a monthly subscription fee, such as streaming platforms like Netflix or Spotify.

What is illegal downloading?

Apart from the above examples, downloading files is generally illegal. Most modern movies, TV series, music albums, software or books (less than a century old) are copyrighted and downloading them is a piracy offence.

Copyright means that the authors of a content are remunerated thanks to his sale. This content may not be copied, reproduced or resold without explicit permission. If you download a file without paying for it, it is a crime.

All about HADOPI

In France, the High Authority for the Dissemination of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet (HADOPI) monitors and punishes illegal downloading and hacking. It is strictly forbidden to download copyrighted artistic works without payment or explicit permission.

HADOPI is monitoring P2P downloading, streaming and direct downloading. In case of illegal downloading via your internet connection, you may be incriminated even if you are not the person who downloaded the content.

Please note that the download itself does not constitute proof. It is making the downloaded work available to other Internet users via P2P, following the download, which serves as proof. At present, direct downloading is therefore less “risky” than P2P .

In case of illegal downloading, if you are spotted by HADOPI, you will receive a first warning by email. If you are spotted again within six months of the first email, you will receive a second warning by mail.

If you continue in spite of these warnings, and you are spotted by HADOPI for the third time within 12 months of the first email, you may be prosecuted and convicted.

Your file will then be examined by the Commission for the Protection of Hadopi Rights. If it summons you, or if you wish, you can be heard. During the hearing, it is possible to be accompanied by the person of your choice. It can be a lawyer.

After this hearing, the Commission will decide whether to drop the charges or refer the case to the public prosecutor at your home. The latter will decide whether or not to prosecute you before the police court. In this case, you will be judged for “gross negligence” for not having monitored the legality of the use of your internet connection. You can then be given a maximum fine of EUR 1500.

In theory, illegal downloading can be prosecuted as a counterfeiting offence: an offence punishable by a penalty of 300 000€ fine and 3 years custodial. However, only the biggest pirates risk such a sanction.

Before 2013, HADOPI was authorized to sever the connection… Internet of an offender in case of illegal downloading. However, this is no longer possible today.

Download and VPN: why use a virtual private network?

Many Internet users use a VPN or virtual private network for downloading. This type of software allows to routed through his internet connection by a remote server. This server may even be located in a foreign country.

Your true IP address will therefore be concealedand replaced by an address shared with other Internet users using the same service. A VPN also allows you to encrypt traffic before it leaves your computer. As a result, your activity on the web is hidden from the Internet service provider or any other third party.

As an alternative, you can also use Tor. This web browser operates similarly to a VPNby redirecting your traffic to other “nodes” and in encrypted form.

Downloading and malware: What are the risks and how to download safely?

Downloading is not always risk-free. Some files may contain malware (malicious software). This is how many cybercriminals trap their victims, for example by attaching malware to an email or web page.

Modern operating systems are equipped with virus protection systems. However, it is important to avoid downloading files from unknown or suspicious websites. Before downloading, make sure that the source is reliable and reputable.

To do this, you can, for example, see the “about” or “contact” pages of a website in order to verify its legitimacy. Look for the phone number, physical address, or any other element referring to the owners of the domain. A simple Google search can also tell you whether a website is known to be a security risk.

As far as emails go, never download an attachment if you don’t know the sender of the mail. This attachment could contain malware or a Trojan Horse and compromise the security of your system.

Before uploading a file, you can also scan it to check that it doesn’t contain any malware. Most antivirus software offers scanning features, which can be accessed by right-clicking or from the main menu of the program. If you have already downloaded the file, scan it before you open or run it.

Lend also beware of file “extensions you wish to download. These are the letters following the file name. For example, an executable file (.exe or .scr) is generally considered dangerous and should be avoided.

Finally, it is recommended that you make a “backup” of your device. This is a copy files stored in memory from the computer or phone, saved on the Cloud or on an external hard drive. If by chance you download a virus that blocks or erases the device’s hard drive, you will be able to restore all the content. All you have to do is reset the system and restore the backup.

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