Can my ISP know what I’m downloading?


  • ► FAQ ISP/Copyright notices I just got a letter/email from my ISP about copyright infringement, what now? How does my ISP know what I am downloading? What VPN should I get? Also check out the community guides posted below to stay safe/avoid legal troubles while pirating Windows Upgrading to Windows 10 (from a pirated OS) On Bitrate and Codecs Resolution Bitrate So what’s the best bitrate? Containers Codecs Xvid H.264 VP9 H.265


The following FAQ is not meant to be an in-depth explanation of the logistics involved in relationships between internet service providers and copyright parties, but rather an oversimplification of answers to common inquiries regarding piracy and the importance of privacy. ISP/Copyright notices I just got a letter/email from my ISP about copyright infringement, what now?

For more information on both services and private trackers, check out:

How does my ISP know what I am downloading?

The blame does not lie solely with your ISP but rather with copyright trolls. Copyright trolls are parties that monitor the distribution of copyrighted material and use “mass copyright litigation to extract settlements from individuals”[1]. These parties actively partake in the downloading of new releases and copyrighted content and enter the torrent swarm (the entire network of people connected to a single torrent).[2] Once in the swarm, they are able to view all the peer’s IP addresses and forward them to their respective ISP. Your ISP then acts as the intermediary and must forward the warnings to each user to comply with copyright law. What VPN should I get?

You should seek a VPN that does not store connection and usage logs. Within this subreddit and Reddit as a whole, you will find aggressive VPN marketing tactics by nearly all top popular VPN services. Do your own research. You will often encounter the suggestion to visit That One Privacy Site. Do not rely blindly on the chart and look up each individual VPN’s ToS. Many VPNs offer trials and refunds, use these to your benefit when determining which VPN best suits your needs. Below are some good research material to start with:

Also check out the community guides posted below to stay safe/avoid legal troubles while pirating Link User Date Published Last Updated How to stay Anonymous u/darknyan 07/13/2012 03/26/2014 …Small script that…hides fake torrents on Pirate Bay u/nicobelic 08/3/2016 09/24/2016

Windows Upgrading to Windows 10 (from a pirated OS)

Upgrading to Windows 10 from Windows 7/8.1 is still available through Microsoft’s accessibility portal (for people who use assistive technologies) which can be found here:

If your Windows 7 OS was activated with a SLIC loader (i.e. Daz’s loader), or your Windows 8.1 OS was activated with a KMS activator, after upgrading to Windows 10, your OS wil be genuine thanks to digital entitlement. Digital entitlement provides your Windows 10 copy a genuine digital license since “you upgraded to Windows 10 for free from an eligible device running a genuine copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.”

This digital license is tied to your hardware. Therefore if you would prefer to “clean install” Windows 10 after the upgrade, you can reset Windows 10 and it will activate automatically after the clean installation. You may also sign in with your Microsoft account to have the key tied to your account.

Listed below are some relevant links to the upgrade process and digital entitlement:

On Bitrate and Codecs

/r/Piracy receives many questions on the subjects of bitrate, codecs, and the like. This article is meant both as a reference on these subjects, and a ‘quick answer’ for many of the most common questions.


Resolution refers to the number of pixels in an image or a single frame of a video file. It is usually expressed in the form WxH, where W is the width of the frame and H is the height. Most televisions are ‘Full HD’, which means 1920×1080. ‘UHD’, on the other hand, is twice the width and height to make 3840×2160. Most individuals and companies call this specific resolution ‘4K’.

(Historically, the term ‘4K’ referred to a slightly wider 4096×2160, but for the sake of simplicity, this article takes the most commonplace definition.)

Additionally, resolution can be expressed as the height of the image followed by a ‘p’. 1920×1080 becomes 1080p, 4K becomes 2160p.


The term ‘bitrate’ refers to the number of bits (ones and zeros) per second for a video or audio file. This number directly affects both quality and filesize. A video file with a high bitrate is larger than one with a low bitrate, but has more details.

For a more visual description, consider the image comparision linked below. [Image has been cropped to show detail.]

At 95%, the image is visually ‘perfect’, only with direct comparison with the source image can any differences be spotted.

At 50%, some quality is sacrificed (note the slight blockiness in the hair, and the lost detail in the sky and forehead). This version isn’t as good as the previous one, but the file is almost a fifth of the size!

At 15%, the quality of the image is severely degraded. Detail is lost everywhere, and blockiness is prevalent. This version is only good for viewing on small screens or when you’re extremely tight on storage space: this file is one-fifteenth the size of the 95% quality version.

Bitrate in video is very similar. A higher bitrate yields better quality at the cost of filesize. Conversely, a lower bitrate takes up less space, but hurts image quality.

Bitrate is usually measured in megabits per second, abbreviated to Mbps (note the lowercase ‘b’). One byte is 8 bits, so one megabyte is 8 megabits.

You can calculate bitrate by finding the file’s size in megabits, and then dividing by the length of the file in seconds.

You can also go backwards: a 12 Mbps movie with a runtime of 2 hours is 12 * 2 (* 60 * 60) = 86400 megabits, or about 10 GB.

So what’s the best bitrate?

There isn’t a ‘best’ bitrate for everybody. Some people are watching on their 65” TVs and want the best (or at least, better) quality. Some people are watching on their phones in the car; there’s no need for the highest quality. It all depends on what you’re after (and how nitpicky you are).

With that being said, we can compare bitrates from different sources. YouTube’s 1080p video varies between 4 Mbps and 8 Mbps. 1080p Blu-Ray discs use 36 Mbps. If you’re watching on a phone, tablet, or small laptop screen you might want to find files somewhere in between these ranges. If you’re watching on a larger screen or TV you’ll probably want the original video files copied straight off the Blu-Ray. (This is called a ‘remux’, and downloads are usually labeled as such.)

Watch your filesizes: dual-layer Blu-Ray discs hold 50 GB. When a remux is done properly, unwanted data (like director commentary, extras) is thrown away, but you are still left with about 30 GB of movie data, sometimes more. If you see a ‘remux’ that’s 1.4 GB, don’t be surprised if it’s not up to par.


Just a note before we go into codecs: a ‘container’ is the name for the small wrapper that contains video data and codec data. It can be identified by its file extension. MP4, MKV, AVI, FLV, and WEBM are examples.

Extra note: An MKV can hold any kind of video, audio, and subtitles, including all the ones listed below.


A ‘codec’ is a specification on how to convert from raw data to images on a screen. When a video file is stored, there is a specific codec that converts that data into what you see.

Video files that use a specific codec are said to be ‘encoded’ using that codec.

Some codecs are better than others in the sense that they can get more quality using fewer bits (smaller filesizes) than others. We describe these codecs as ‘more efficient’.

Here is a small list of popular codecs:

Xvid Xvid isn’t actually a codec, it’s a program that encodes videos. The name for the codec it uses is MPEG-4 ASP, but that never stuck. Quality-wise, it was OK for it’s time (2001!), but doesn’t hold a candle to modern codecs. Usually contained in AVI.

H.264 Also called MPEG-4 AVC, this codec is used everywhere, basically. Usually contained in MP4.

VP9 Developed by Google and used in YouTube and WEBM, this codec usually beats out H.264 by a small margin. Since no media standard uses it (Blu-Rays use H.264 or H.265), you won’t see this one very often. Usually contained in WEBM

H.265 Also called HEVC. The current champion, replacing H.264. Some 1080p Blu-Rays and all 4K Blu-Rays use this one. Usually contained in MP4, if not MKV.

Last revised by dysgraphical – 1 year ago


How long does an ISP keep browsing records?

This section can start with “well, it depends” – twice! Because it depends on whether the ISP is required (or even allowed) to keep records and whether it can keep browsing records.

If there’s anything approaching a universal rule of the thumb, it’s that ISPs can be mandated to keep logs of the past 6-12 months. However, this varies by country. 

Take Australia, for example. Ozzie law demands that records be kept for 2 years. But the law also says that it’s not browsing data, but email senders and recipients, and who had what IP address when. 

When in doubt, research your local laws.  

Can My ISP See What I Download with VPN

Using a VPN prevents the ISP from seeing what you download. It can not know what is inside the encrypted VPN tunnel. ISP can not track what you download and where you are getting your files from. A VPN is the most secure way to share files, especially when torrenting. An ISP can only see encrypted data streams.

Can Your Internet Provider See What You Search with a VPN

Your ISP can not see anything you search online when using a VPN. However, the search engine you are using can still see what you search for. A VPN hides your searches from ISP, but not from Google or Bing. You need to take extra actions to protect your browsing and search history completely.

It’s a File **Sharing** Protocol

When you use services like limewire, utorrent or others it’s important that you realize that you’re not only downloading whatever it is you’re downloading.

You’re also sharing what you’ve downloaded previously with others who are using the same service.

That’s why it’s called “peer to peer” file sharing – there is no central server, it’s everyone using the service sharing with each other.

That’s typically the copyright issue that most people get stuck on. If you download, say, a movie – well that’s you downloading one movie.

But with the file sharing software continuing to run, dozens if not hundreds of others could be “downloading” that same movie from your machine – even before you finish downloading it yourself. Now all of a sudden your machine becomes implicated not in one copyright violation – your download – but as a source of dozens or hundreds of other copyright violations as you make that same movie available to others.

That’s when the movie studios or record labels contact your ISP, and in turn when the ISP contacts you.

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a cat (if you’re using a VPN)

As the go-between between you and the wider internet, an ISP has the potential to record and store a lot of data on your online activities. That said, what they can actually do (or have to do) heavily depends on the local law. But in any case, if you really want your ISP to have no clue what you’re doing online, get a trustworthy VPN like Surfshark and hide your traffic.