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Starlink Is Just Another ISP When it Comes to Piracy

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There’s a lot of buzz right now around SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet, which is available across the northern US along with a few places in Canada and the UK. Hypothetically, the Starlink dish could help people bypass censorship and surveillance in their home countries, but Starlink isn’t going to be a libertarian free-for-all. One Starlink subscriber shared a warning letter they got for running torrents on the connection, and it could have been written by any of the traditional ground-based ISPs. 

The subscriber, who goes by substrate-97 on Reddit, says they have been running torrents on Starlink for the past two months. Torrents have become the most popular way of sharing pirated material because they don’t require a central repository of files. Instead, the files are shared among the “swarm” of users. So, you might get a few bits from someone in Asia, a few more from someone a couple of towns over, and so on until you’ve got the entire thing. A copyright holder, or more likely someone paid by the copyright holder, can join the swarm and collect the IP addresses of “seeds,” which are users who are sharing the whole file for others to download. 

According to substrate-97, the torrent experiment initially consisted of more obscure things, but they recently pirated something from a “Fortune 500 company.” That appears to have set off alarm bells. The copyright owner most likely made a complaint to Starlink, which forwarded the warning to the owner of the IP address. 

“We must insist that you and/or others using your Starlink service refrain from illegal downloads of copyrighted content,” the email says. It goes on to warn that continuing to torrent copyrighted material will result in termination of service and possible legal risk. Although, the copyright holder would need to go to court to force Starlink to reveal the subscriber’s name associated with the IP address, and that’s exceedingly rare these days. 

Starlink, which costs $99 per month after a $500 setup fee, currently relies on a network of more than 1,400 satellites, but SpaceX wants to deploy as many as 30,000. No matter how many satellites it has, Starlink will still work like a regular ISP on the ground, copyright notices and all. That means you can also circumvent this monitoring with a VPN or seedbox, just like you can on any other ISP.

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