Torrents and educational fair use problem

Hypothetically, a college instructor is teaching a course and wants to screen a film for the students to discuss.

The instructor has purchased a copy of the film. However, due to a constellation of IP and technical factors, digitally streaming the film from an online service in the classroom and/or using a DVD is impractical.

Can the instructor use a torrent service to obtain a copy of the film on a laptop to screen for the students? And if that’s possible, is there a tutorial that hypothetical instructors can hypothetically read?

No instructors or anyone else will profit from the screening except for the vendor that sold the digital copy of the film to the instructor.

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showing a film for a class is fair use.
he should be able to show it if he owns a dvd.
my schlock movie ‘class’ is pretty much a class for that reason and the teacher is a lawyer.


The problem is that the most convenient technical option is to display the film on a monitor over hdmi from the hard drive of a laptop.


ahh and no physical copy or optical drive?

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if you or this hypothetical friend has the dvd its quite easy to use another computer with a dvd drive to rip the dvd to a video file although its a bit more work to basically have the same results as downloading a torrent


Exactly. It’s a perfect storm for considering (a) to torrent or not to torrent; and (b) how the hell does anyone “torrent” anyway?

There’s no DVD and no convenient means to play the DVD in the allotted time.

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the short version is that you install a torrent client like this one and then visit a website such as , look up the movie, and click the little magnet button and then it should just sorta happen. if there’s more than one copy avaliable the one with the biggest number in the seed column is the best


Perhaps the simplest way to frame this question is to posit what kind of shit storm would happen if all of the details were made public? Would the uni defend the instructor’s use of torrents, which would be characterized unfavorably by the media? Or would the uni throw the instructor to the wolves?

That you are being so careful with all of the hypothetical suggests to me that you already suspect the university would not support this but want to do it anyway and are looking for some CYA reasons you can pull out in your defense if your actions come to light.

Some universities have a history of ripping DVDs themselves for playback. UCLA was sued over that, but the case failed due to lack of standing and was not decided on the merits. Universities have been playing at the edge of the law - it is just way more practical to serve the movies from DVD rips on a central server than to playback the physical media. Even so, I’m thinking that the universities want to decide that edge and not leave it up to their instructors, and that the unis and really don’t want to get noticed or associated with torrents.

Also, torrents might seem anonymous because faceless internet, but, in fact, they are about as public as you can get. If you download a torrent, your IP address is public - because that’s how everyone knows where to send the bits, and the lawsuits.

If you are not familiar with the ins and outs of torrents and you are a college instructor my suggestion would be: run away.

Ask other instructors how they get playback. You’d be better off ripping the DVD you own for classroom playback than torrenting it. It’s more in line with what some universities IT systems do. Much more justifiable if you are called on it.


Can’t your friend ask a student to “get” a copy on a thumbdrive?

Be non-specific. Just say what you need, and that you’d be delighted not to hear any details beyond whether it’s on the stick or not.

At least that’s how it worked when I was in community college. Professor X of the English department hails me in the hall saying they need a copy of Romeo + Juliet for a class, I hand them a thumbdrive the next day. I must have done that dozens of times.

Ripped a lot of youtube videos too. The school’s internet was so bad at the time they couldn’t really even play youtube reliably, so they’d give me a list of URLs, and I’d go home and pull them down with FlashGot.


For youtube videos i recommend basically the entire Crash Course series (ALL of them.) CGP Grey, Vsauce, Veritasium…

Anyone have any other educationals on Youtube?

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I don’t know. I worked for Garden Grove USD and they advised teachers not to show more than 20 minutes (it may be less) at any given time (yeah, right), and under no circumstances should any Disney or Disney distributed films be shown.


As someone with a film-teachin’ wife, the college needs to just buy the DVD and call it a day. The same way you can photocopy portions of a book and distribute in a class, you still need to buy a copy of the book. The school would buy this DVD the same way they’d buy any supplies for any class, they’ll be using it for next year’s class anyway.


That’s normally sound advice except that this is truly a hypothetical.

It’s a question about the technical steps for getting content via torrent as safely as possible.

It is not a real situation and no animals will be harmed in the making of this film.

The hypothetical is intended to create a safe space to discuss an interesting process which is ordinarily shrouded in mystery for non-technically experienced professionals — and which some more experienced professionals might not otherwise feel safe to discuss.

That is the most practical route. :slight_smile:

Good advice most of the time but won’t satisfy the hypothetical since there’s DVD player issues and a time crunch in the mix.

Is it important to think about VPN in addition to torrent client programs?

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Torrenting will take as much time as ripping the DVD.

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  1. go to a minimal surveillance grocery store, buy a $50 prepaid debit card. Pay in cash.

  2. Buy a few months subscription to a reputable VPN service like with your anonymous debit card and an anonymous email address.

  3. Install your VPN, connect to it, then go download your favorite torrent client.

  4. Go to a site like KAT.CR use its search to find a torrent of the file you want.

  5. Click the magnet icon. Tell it to open in the torrent client.

Once the download is finished, completely close out of your torrent client before disconnecting from the VPN.

Oh, also this should all be done in incognito mode or inprivate browsing mode whatever private browsing feature you have. I also recommend turning off l cookies and scripting while doing this.

Thia is probably one of the safest ways to torrent, but you can’t ever have too much infosec and physec.


Understood, and I think that understanding either process fits within the purpose of the hypo. OTOH, in the hypo there’s no timely means to play the DVD once ripped.

If you can’t play the ripped DVD how are you going to play the torrent? They will both be a digital file.

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Take lots of photos of the film as it plays (with captions on).

Print out the photos, photocopy and hand out.


The hypothetical specifies the hard drive of a laptop, an hdmi cable and a monitor.

Hypothetically, any form of IT department distributing this kind of information to hypothetical professors is bound to end poorly if any students hear about it.

“I pay how many thousands and these people have to steal stuff off the internet?”
“They can’t get organized enough to rip a DVD?”