Although bittorrent has a reputation for illegally distributing copyrighted content, there is a large, and rapidly growing amount of content in bittorrent that is legally distributable. Much of this is issued under a Creative Commons license which allows you to copy, distribute, advertise and play as long as you give credit to the artist. Some also allow altering for mixes as long as credit is given to the artist.
Most of this content is music audio and is from up and coming artists. There are some current movies from independent producers, but most is older movies in the Public Domain. There is some content from mainstream popular music, mostly live concerts, but a few popular artists have released their content over bittorrent.
All of the content at these sites is legal to download and distribute. I have never heard of a fake or infected torrent at these sites (but I suppose they could exist) and there is no worry about copyright legalities.
In addition to these sites, any torrent search site will index legal torrents. A search for public domain, open source or creative commons will usually bring up a substantial list. Any Linux distribution will almost always be available also.
This article is part of a series of articles on bittorrent here at Gizmo's Freeware. If you are not familiar with bittorrent, then before using this article you should read this:
Academic Torrents – a distributed system for sharing datasets – for researchers, by researchers.
Archive.org The Internet Archive has just opened its torrents section, which offers over 1 million items from its collection for free download through torrents. This collection includes (as of August, 2012) 1,225,491 ebooks, 127,383 items from the music and audio section of the Archive and 9,674 videos from the movies archive. This collection will grow rapidly as all new entries to the archive will be offered as torrents and older entries are being added continually. In my test of a few of the torrents, download speeds were excellent. The Archive is seeding all content.
BitLove creates torrents for RSS feeds of Podcasts and helps to seed them. Many of the current podcasts are in German, but there are a few English podcasts available. All are free downloads through torrents.
BitTorrent Now mostly music with some video and audiobooks. All available through torrents. Though put out by BitTorrent, any bittorrent client may be used.
C. Dominik Bodi has each of the 24 promotional CDs of Baen's free science fiction novels available in ISO.
eTree is a community for sharing the live concerts of Trade Friendly artists. It is a very large collection of many genres and has a nice mix of old and new.
Fanatics4Classics a good size collection of classic novels from Project Gutenberg available for free download in genre bundles. There did not appear to be a web seed supporting these and the speeds for each torrent were variable. The bundles are available in EPUB and Kindle compatible MOBI.
FrostClick an impressive collection of free music, games, software, movies and shows offered under creative commons license.
GameUpdates.org carries legal patches, demos and mods for the latest games. There are dedicated high speed seeders, so files are always available. Looking at their forums, they weed out any illegal material uploaded quickly.
ibiblio torrents provides Bittorrent access to ibiblio's open source content. There is a great deal of free content available here in software, audio and video.
JamToThis is a private site featuring legal audio and video in a similar vein to eTree above.
Legit Torrents is a collection of close to 1,700 torrents, which appears to be mostly software with some of the other content. It bills itself as hosting 100% Legally Free Media.
Librivox offers all of its public domain audiobooks for free download through torrents. From what I saw, all the torrents are seeded by the Archive.org servers.
Linux Tracker bills itself as the Premiere Linux Bittorrent Website and hosts around 500 torrents of free and open source software, preferably Linux.
Media History Digital Library a collection of works regarding the history of cinema, broadcasting and sound. If you click on the link to the Internet Archive page (IA), a torrent is available for each of the library offerings.
Panda.cd is a private site featuring creative commons and artist permission releases of music. Their collection has grown rather large. Registration is open.
PlaneShift a 3d fantasy MMORPG that is free and open source. Cross platform downloads are available free through torrents. Registration, with valid email, is required to play the game. There did appear to be at least one web seed available, so speeds were good.
Public Domain Flicks offers a collection of free public domain movies for free download through torrents. All appear to be through Archive.org and its web seeds.
Public Domain Torrents is a collection of classic movies and B-movies that are in the public domain. The collection includes approximately 1,000 movies that are available in DivX, iPod, PDA and PSP. Speeds are generally a bit slow.
StanfordSchoolOfEngineering offers free classes and lectures. The print material is available through direct download. Video lectures are available through torrents.
SXSW Torrents not the official site of SXSW, but this site has 9 years of the music releases from SXSW. There are over 9,000 songs included in these collections.
TAS Videos tool assisted game movies. These run through classic and modern games at high speed, allowing new users to quickly become experts. All are available as free downloads through torrents. The torrents all appear to be supported by Archive.org, web seeds.
The Mercury Theater On The Air an excellent collection of shows from the classic radio drama, famous for the War of The Worlds broadcast, but also responsible for some of the best radio dramas ever. A torrent of all the material is at the bottom of this page.
The New Voyages a fan series based set in the Star Trek universe. Now referred to as Star Trek: Phase II, the series began as Star Trek: New Voyages and continues where the original series left off. All episodes available for free download through torrents. Spanish and Portuguese hard coded subtitled versions also available.
ThePaulWayMixes Paul Way released 52 of his mixes for free and legal download through torrents.
Vuze. As of June, 2009, Vuze now carries only videos. This is a small collection of some TV shows, movie trailers and news clips. All are available for free download with any bittorrent client.
Vuze Blog posts links to an interesting collection of legal torrents around the web. All are free.
This is not a complete listing of free and legal sites. If anyone knows of other sites they feel should be on this list, then please post here.