Legal or not, many of my customers ask how to download music and movies from the Internet. So, here is a guide on how to do these things safely.
I’ll cover the legal methods first, then head in to murkier waters later. But first, before doing anything be sure to know how much you can download with your internet company – because in the absolute worst case figures you could end up costing yourself around $1,200 for one 4000 MB movie.
Legal Music Downloads
The most common way to legally download music is to use the iTunes program. This does require a credit card to use. Songs are typically 99 US cents each. You can get iTunes free here.
You can also use the iTunes program to copy these songs onto a CD by dragging the songs to the bottom left of the screen to create a playlist, and then right-clicking this playlist and choosing “burn to CD.”
Well, as most of you know BigPond is one of the most overpriced internet companies out there; but they do have a reasonably priced legitimate music store. Songs are typically $1.65 each.
MP3 Sparks / AllOfMp3.com
AllOfMP3 is a Russian website which sells music much cheaper than the other two – causing some debate about whether or not the site is in fact legal. Most songs sell for about 20-50 cents, or whole albums for around $4. You can find MP3sparks here.
In the last ten years there have been many Peer to Peer programs for downloading music from other people for free. The first one, Napster, caused quite a stir and was eventually sued out of existence. Kazaa was the next one to become well known – not only for downloading music but also for buggering up people’s computers! (And that hasn’t changed.) Bearshare is another fairly well known one; but the safest and most common one at the moment appears to be …
LimeWire is a Peer to Peer sharing program. What this means is that when you start it and type in the name of a song or artist; it searches all the other people’s computers to see who else has the same songs and it copies them to your computer.
Generally it’s safe to use, provided you stick to MP3s only. Should you deviate to anything other than MP3s, you run a big risk of getting a virus. (See where it displays type as MP3 in the results.)
Note also how the songs have a number next to their name? This indicates how many other people have that song at the moment. The higher this number, the faster you’ll get the song.
Downloading music that is still in copyright is of course probably illegal, so you take your chances when you do this. The probability of being caught is low because there are so many people using it, and because most of the lawsuits take place in America.
Warning: LimeWire likes to run in the background when you close it. This means that it might be sharing the songs you downloaded when you finished using it. If you’re on wireless broadband on a limited download account; be sure to close it completely from the icon near the clock when done.
Also, LimeWire tends to have times when it simply will not connect. You can’t do much about this other than just leave it running until it connects. (Green bars shown bottom left.)
Legal Movie and TV Show Downloads
As above, you can use iTunes to download some movies and TV shows. Some shows may not be available in Australia due to rights restrictions.
ABC has an Internet-based TV site here. You can watch some missed shows and internet-only shows here.
Well, everyone knows YouTube surely 🙂
Of course, most videos average around 10 megabytes each so be careful if you’re on wireless broadband or a limited download plan.
As a side note, if you’d like to keep a copy of any YouTube movie, you can do this by doing the following:
1 – Install Firefox if you don’t already have it.
2 – Click here to install Video DownloadHelper.
In a pleasant surprise whilst researching for this article, I realised that BigPond actually has downloadable movies. (I knew they did scratched DVDs to the door…) The prices look reasonable. You can access them from here.
Note that DRM restrictions apply to BigPond Movies, so you only have 48 hours to watch the movie in before it commits seppuku.
“Free Pay TV?”
OK now here’s a strange category for you. The TVU Player lets you watch live streams of tv channels all over the world; but it’s a bit of a chaotic mess if you’re trying to find a specific show.
I doubt that some of the channels here are here with the permission of the content creators. Some channels however, like Christian TV, etc, are probably grateful of the publicity.
Like any shady website, be careful what you click on! The system itself seems safe, but since it’s advertisement-funded and not censored; who knows what’ll show up on it. You can get it from here. Oh, and like Limewire it likes to keep running in the background – make sure you close it from near the clock when done.
Movie and Music Torrent Downloads – Illegal if you get copyrighted material.
BitTorrent is a way for people to share large files on the Internet without having to pay for a large central server. This is because as you download a file, your computer is also automatically sharing the bits you downloaded to others.
This system can be used legally or otherwise. For example, if you set up a band and recorded a video; you could share it via BitTorrent and not have to pay distribution costs. (Of course, you could use YouTube too but the 10 minute limit can be an issue.)
To find movies, music, etc; you need to visit a website that keeps track of them all. You also need a BitTorrent program. Read on for more…
Step 1 – Mininova
Although the Swedish “The Pirate Bay” website is probably the best known pirate downloads site, Mininova tends to offer more intelligent, searchable results.
Warning: Both Mininova and ThePirateBay are covered in dubious advertisements. Be careful not to click on them. Of course, if you’re smart and have FireFox and AdBlock Plus you’d never see ’em.
Now, Mininova is what is known as a ‘torrent tracker’. The site lets you download a torrent file.
In this example, I’ve searched for the TV show “The Amazing Race”. It says there are 262 possible matching results. Here’s how to work out which is which: (Note: I don’t know if it is illegal to download this show or not. It is shown on free to air.)
Learning the Lingo…
Series and Episodes
Firstly, you might notice things like S14E05 – this means Series 14, Episode 5.
Seeds and Leeches
Seeds are the number of people who have the whole show on their computer. The higher this number, the faster your show would download. If there are no seeds, your download won’t complete – in which case it will stall and wait for a seed to come along.
Leeches are the number of people downloading the show right now – if there are many more leeches than seeds, this might mean a slow download.
There are other terms like DVDRip which means someone copied a DVD. XVID or DIVX are compressed videos to save space. You might even see SCR, which usually means some silly bugger snuck a video camera into a cinema and filmed the movie – usually with lacklustre and occasionally amusing results like a chair blocking the view, out of focus, etc..
There are also certain ‘brands’ of file sharers which can informally be a sign of quality. For example, ‘EZTV’ is a brand that usually means the file is good quality.
It’s possible that someone might list a fake show here. The comments / thanks section will alert you to this, so they are worth checking.
Once you have found a file you want, you would click on “download this file” and it should then open up in a BitTorrent program… If you haven’t got one, the best one at the moment is …
uTorrent is a program that takes care of reading the torrent file and getting whatever it is you want to download. (You can get it here.) In the above example, here’s the intereting bits to know: (Click the picture to see it larger)
1 – Size. 174MB in this case. Quite small compared to some shows which can be up to around 4000MB (or 4GB) As usual, be careful if you have limited downloads, or if you’re on a service that charges for uploads as well as downloads.
2 – Progress. (How far through the download you are.)
3 – Seeds, Peers. (Talked about those before)
4 – Down and Up Speed. In this case downloading at 400KB per second, which is the same as 4000Kb per second – or if you like half of the maximum 8Mb that my line can do. (You don’t want to do maximum upload or download because then everything else slows down.)
5 – ETA. How long before the file finishes arriving.
6 – Peers. Here you can see who else is downloading and uploading the file. As you can see there are many countries represented here! And this also makes it clear how easy it would be to identify who’s downloading. At present, the only two methods for preventing this are to use a VPN product such as the soon to be released ipredator program, or to try to hide using PeerGuardian.
7 – The Green Tick means that uTorrent can get through your firewall OK. This is important for speed – as without it your speed will be about 20% of normal. If you can’t make this tick go green, you’ll either need help from an IT-aware person, or can try your luck at PortForward.com
Other things that can happen…
As you can probably guess, this is a ‘geek’s world’. As a result, some of them do some geeky things which can occasionally cause problems for the rest of us. (Or the rest of you? Am I a geek?)
Most video files are AVI files. Most of these play automatically, but if not try VLC Media Player.
Sometimes you might end up with a .iso file – which is a copy of a CD or DVD. You can probably burn this with a program on your computer; or if you have XP you can skip this step and ‘mount’ it with MagicDisc. (This might work on Vista too, but not sure. Last time I tried, it killed Vista but that was ages ago.)
The same will also work for UIF files, and NRG files.
You might hit a weird one that has tens of files numbered something.rar, something.001, something.002, etc. For this you’ll need the freeware 7-Zip – simply open the one that ends in rar with it, and click Extract.
Finally, you might hit a really annoying one called .daa – for which you’ll probably need the daa to ISO converter. (Not sure what they do that for.)
Watch and Record TV
So there you go. Overloaded yet? Well, there’s one other way you can get shows for free of course – watch TV! As mentioned in a previous Blog Post, you can now buy for about $70 a USB TV tuner, and add it to your computer using either it’s included software or the free GB-PVR program. You can then mark on the TV guide which shows you like and it’ll automatically record them for you. Once set up, even a non-technical person can use it with ease, complete with a $30 remote control if needed.
Most modern TVs will take a connection from a computer to use it as a screen.
Don’t want to do that? Well you can buy hard disk recorders from electronics shops to do the same sort of thing.
The other things you might want to check out are Podcasts and Vodcasts. Examples are:
The Moth Podcast
.. and more. (I’m getting tired now 🙂 )