Guides

How to download movies, TV shows, and games without being tracked

Sometimes you just need to get the goods. Use this guide to download what you need safely and easily.

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Here at Input, we’re already two weeks into an elective self-quarantine. For writers and editors sitting alone at home, tapping away at a computer as our spines slowly deform, these are just regular days for us. But for many this is a new and isolating experience, and it would be good to have something to take your mind off the chaos and ineptitude that surrounds us.

Luckily, in the internet age we have nearly unfettered access to as much information and entertainment as we could want. In fact, just yesterday Universal announced that it would start letting customers watch its new movies at home via VOD (though for a rather steep $20 per rental) because people aren’t supposed to go to theaters. Plus, we live in a golden age of TV where our cup runneth over with all that’s available on streaming services like Disney+, Hulu, and Netflix.

But as much as these services offer, it’s not everything. Sometimes you want to watch something that just isn’t available. Contagion, a film about a global pandemic so prescient it’s almost scary, wasn’t available on most streaming services and saw a boom of piracy as news of the COVID-19 outbreak began to spread, according to The Verge. Recently, Beastars, an animated adaptation of a manga of the same name, was a Japan-only Netflix exclusive for months before its release in the U.S. last Friday.

Beastars, an animated adaptation of a manga of the same name, was a Japan-only Netflix exclusive for months.

So what do you do when the thing you want to watch in your cave isn’t available? You pirate, that’s what. Our legal department, not to mention, you know, ethics, requires us to note that piracy is bad and that you shouldn’t do it. Sure, you may be digitally shoplifting from giant corporations that, instead of paying their employees well, spend that money on executives and stock buybacks, but it’s still stealing, right? Right?

But if you were to decide — completely of your own accord, of course — to go through with your sinful deed, you should do it safely and securely. Plus, not all methods of piracy are created equal.

Use a VPN

Here’s the thing, movie studios and copyright holders already know where their intellectual property is being distributed. You, a responsible hermit in search of otherwise unattainable warez, need to keep your home internet connection from being seen on the list of people downloading said warez, regardless of what you’re downloading and where you’re downloading it from.

To do that, you need a VPN, or virtual private network. I’m not going to get into all the technical details about what a VPN is, but in a nutshell it’s a service where, once logged in, the VPN’s internet connection becomes your internet connection. Servers don’t see your IP address, they see your VPN’s IP address.

Private Internet Access.

This is critical. You need to have one of these, and you probably need to pay for it. Case-in-point: some free VPNs you find online are actually stealing your data. I recommend Private Internet Access, or PIA, and no, they’re not paying us despite all the VPN commercials you hear in podcasts. Unlike other services, PIA doesn’t log what sites you visit and their app includes something called a killswitch, which is very important.

What the killswitch does is block your internet access until the VPN reconnects. For example, let’s say you’re downloading something and you close your laptop, putting it to sleep. When your laptop wakes up the download will resume, presumably with your home or office internet connection, momentarily exposing your real IP address on the other end. That’s bad.

Embrace the torrent

If you’re reading Input, chances are you probably know what torrents are and you were probably using them a lot back in the early 2000s. But you grew up, made some money, and now that streaming services have cracked the cable bundle, you’re a little out of the loop. That’s okay, we’re here for you.

First, you need a torrent client. Stop using µTorrent like a child and use a real torrent client like qBitorrent, which is available for Windows and Mac. It’s open source and has never secretly embedded a cryptocurrency miner, so it’s got that going for it. Mac heads may be shouting at their laptops about Transmission, but it’s been very unstable for me in recent years. It’s time to let go.

Now you’re probably hoping that I’ll tell you where to find torrents of your favorite movies and TV shows. Unfortunately that’s a no-can-do pal. But I can tell you that what you’re looking for is called a tracker, which is a website where pirates upload their torrents. Can’t access your old friend Pirate Bay? Maybe you should search Reddit.

Pirate streaming services

Imagine a streaming service like Hulu or Netflix, but illegal. That’s what apps like Kodi and Popcorn Time are. Out of the box, Kodi isn’t inherently a piracy tool, but more of a front end for organizing media, like Plex (which we’ll get to shortly). However, you can add sources and addons, which populate Kodi with a bounty of torrents and direct streams, which you can then stream. Popcorn Time is very similar, but includes its own torrents, essentially.

Kodi isn’t inherently a piracy tool, but more of a front end for organizing media.

Again, I can’t tell you where to find these sources and addons for Kodi, but a quick search around the web should yield fruitful results. And because these are still using torrents under the hood, you should definitely be using a VPN. If you download Popcorn Time I would advise not using the VPN it prompts you to buy because, according to Best VPN, it’s blocked by PayPal and doesn’t have updated native apps. A couple of people on Reddit said it was fine, but it’d be better to use a reputable VPN for a couple bucks a month.

Plex

Plex is an awesome media front end for your legal and illegal media files and probably the best use of an old computer bar none. Say you download a bunch of movies, but they’re just loose files with weird names in a folder. Plex will scan those files and organize them into a nice, TV-friendly interface, and can even do things like stream music and backup your smartphone’s photos and videos.

However, some people are bending the rules and sharing their Plex servers, but they’re very exclusive and highly coveted. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not going to get access to these, sorry.

Seedboxes

Seedboxes, in the traditional use of the term, are remote servers that you log into and do your torrenting on. There are a couple of key advantages to using a seedbox, namely that your home IP address isn’t the one doing the torrenting and that you get access to datacenter-level download speeds. However, these are rather expensive, and really only make sense for hardcore pirates who have to maintain their seed ratio on private trackers.

Put.io.

That being said, there is a more consumer-oriented seedbox called Put.io. Basically, you log into Put.io, add your torrent, and it downloads it for you into your cloud storage at ridiculously fast speeds. Then you can download the Put.io app on your Apple TV, Roku device, iPhone, Android phone, or basically whatever you have and stream your media of choice right to the TV. The only downside? You’ll probably want to opt for the 1TB option, which is $19.99 a month, and at that rate you might as well buy that movie that Netflix doesn’t have.

So there you have it, that’s how you get that movie or horny anime you’ve been pining for. And if you’re looking for ways to offset your guilt for being a dirty, no good pirate, you can always support small content creators directly on platforms like Itch.io or Patreon.

Good luck out there.