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these sites are trustworthy because all the traders have been trading music long before torrents were invented, or even before the internet became common
the bands involved even encourage it and allow the taping at their shows
IANAL as well, but as a general rule, if you can get content without paying for it in any way, but the person that made the content charges for it (and did not sanction the free method of distribution), it's probably illegal.
Torrents are just another method of copying files, with some distinct advantages over normal systems--scalability comes to mind, since as more people start torrenting the file, the speed at which everyone can download increases. They're not illegal in and of themselves, though they're often used for illegal purposes.
Ownership of it is legal, and used properly can be a great thing, but many (most?) of the ways people use it are illegal.
In general, just follow the rule "don't steal". If you follow this, torrents are a perfectly logical and reasonable way to download content.
[edited by: WesleyC at 7:53 pm (utc) on July 21, 2008]
[edited by: lawman at 4:27 pm (utc) on July 22, 2008]
It's quite difficult to tell. If the site is dodgy you can get spyware or a virus from it. If the torrented files are dodgy, you can get spyware or a virus from them. Torrents require a fair amount of trust to work--if you don't trust the site providing you with the torrent file, OR you don't trust the person that created the torrent, don't download it. It's pretty much as simple as that.
Also, I highly recommend running absolutely everything downloaded through torrents through a virus scanner. Think of a torrent as a neighborhood--just because you trust the neighbors doesn't mean you won't lock your door.