One thing that iTunes, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have proven is that content makers can fight piracy by providing a better, easier service to paying customers. But what happens when piracy fights back with something just as convenient?
A new app called Popcorn Time raises that very question. Available for Windows, Mac and Linux, Popcorn Time lets you stream the latest movies -- including American Hustle, Gravity and Frozen -- with just a couple clicks. The software uses BitTorrent to find and download movies, but eliminates the usual hassle of wading through sketchy torrent sites and waiting for the file to finish downloading. (Clarification: Popcorn Time does not use BitTorrent to find files, but finds its movies through YTS, a website that indexes movie torrent files.)
Basically, it's the version of Netflix that you've always wanted -- and maybe have been willing to pay extra for -- but that Hollywood may never allow. It's also a flagrant enabler of copyright violation, at least in the United States.
Popcorn Time's creators are quick to acknowledge the legal dangers. A disclaimer, warning that it may be illegal in your country to download copyrighted material, appears on the Popcorn Time website and again in the app itself. Movie studios have been known to monitor torrent traffic and sue individual file sharers, so Popcorn Time isn't necessarily safe unless you're using a virtual private network to mask your whereabouts.
But the creators aren't particularly worried about the movie industry hounding them. "We don’t expect legal issues," a developer named Sebastian told TorrentFreak. "We don’t host anything, and none of the developers makes any money. There are no ads, no premium accounts, and no subscription fees or anything like that. It’s an experiment to learn and share."
I have a feeling Hollywood will try its best to attack Popcorn Time, but as a free, open-source project, it's going to be tough to take down. The developers have shown that movie piracy can be intuitive and user-friendly. If movie studios can't break down the release windows and old business models that prevent new movies from being available on-demand, they should be very afraid of apps like Popcorn Time.