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In today’s article, we introduce our readers to an app which is true messiah for all those out there who’re lazy to view movies anywhere other than their home on their laptop; the Popcorn Time App. And no, this isn’t an app that magically delivers popcorn to you when you’re all wrapped up in your blanket watching a movie! Most of us think of Netflix when we think of streaming movies and TV shows, but over the past year and a half, a competitor has emerged: one that’s almost as easy to use, doesn’t charge a thing, and — you guessed it — steals everything it streams. That new service is called Popcorn Time, and it’s become known as the “Netflix for pirates.”
Popcorn Time is multi-platform, free software BitTorrent client that includes an integrated media player. The applications provide a free alternative to subscription-based video streaming services (such as Netflix). Popcorn Time uses sequential downloading to stream video listed by several torrent websites (although other trackers can be added and used manually). Popcorn Time can be installed on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android, and it basically looks like an iTunes library that’s been filled with every film imaginable (including those that haven’t been released yet). You just choose what you want to watch, and click play — it’s pretty much that simple. What’s going on behind the scenes, however, is a lot more complex, not to mention illegal in much of the world. To get all of those movies, Popcorn Time reaches out to groups of people sharing films and TV shows over torrent networks. It then begins to download the video you want to stream and at the same time-shares that video with other people. This means when you click play, you’re both downloading pirated content and sharing it with others.
Following its inception, Popcorn Time quickly received positive media attention, with some comparing the app to Netflix for being easy to use. After this increase in popularity, its original developers abruptly took down the program on March 14, 2014, due to pressure from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of India) Since then, the program has been forked several times with several other development teams such as the Butter Project to maintain the program and produce new features. The original Popcorn Time team endorsed the popcorntime.io fork, and picked it as the successor to the official Popcorn Time as of August 2015. In October 2015, the MPAA obtained a court injunction from Canada to stop the Canadian programmers of popcorntime.io, and later obtained the domain name, although the project reappeared on a new website popcorntime.sh.
Torrents have been around for a long time and have historically been associated with piracy. They’ve never been particularly easy to get started with, though, so they never made it as big as, say, Napster. Popcorn Time, on the other hand, is a lot more straightforward. It hides everything that’s difficult about torrents behind a stylish, easy-to-use interface. This isn’t just helpful in a practical sense; it also gives the app a feeling of legitimacy, encouraging users who might otherwise be put off by torrent sites. These reasons are why it’s been gaining so much attention and why copyright holders are so unhappy about it. There’s a good chance you’ve heard of the app over the past year and a half, but its actual history is a little murky. That’s made worse by the fact that there are multiple versions of the software developed by multiple teams of developers — at this point, there’s no one true Popcorn Time. (Something that’s also made the app much more difficult to shut down. You can kill one version, but another will soon replace it.) To clear it all up, here’s a timeline of Popcorn Time’s development highlights, as well as significant responses from rights groups:
Piracy is a “service problem.”
Designer and hacker Federico Abad, aka Sebastian, has the idea for Popcorn Time while sitting in bed in his hometown of Buenos Aires. He’s frustrated by the unavailability of films and later says piracy is a “service problem.” He and his friends code the app “in a couple of weeks,” with the idea of creating something that lets anyone watch any film in two clicks.
The first beta of Popcorn Time is uploaded to GitHub with support for Windows and Mac. Coders from around the world begin to improve the open-source program.
“We don’t expect legal issues.”
Abad tells TorrentFreak that he believes Popcorn Time is legal because it doesn’t host any content or make any money. BitTorrent technology is used to download and distribute the films, but Popcorn Time’s developers don’t profit. “It’s an experiment to learn and share,” says Abad.
Popcorn Time is killed and resurrected
The original developers say goodbye to Popcorn Time, citing “legal threats [and] shady machinery that makes us feel in danger for doing what we love.” The code is pulled from GitHub and the site closed down, but third-parties soon start re-hosting the app.
Popcorn Time splits in two
Two main versions of Popcorn Time emerge: get-popcorntime.com and Time4Popcorn.eu. In June, get-popcorntime.com becomes popcorntime.io, while Time4Popcorn later becomes Popcorn-Time.se. Their sites look nearly identical. Good luck keeping them straight!
Popcorn Time launches on Android
Time4Popcorn is the first to bring Popcorn Time to Android. Google quickly pulls it from the Play Store — probably something to do with all the piracy — but it remains available for people to download and install on their own. Another Android app would be launched by popcorntime.io later in the year.
“Millions” are pirating on Popcorn Time
Time4Popcorn tells TorrentFreak that it’s gained millions of users during its few short months of life. Tens of thousands of people are said to be downloading the app each day. The app also adds support this month for streaming to Chromecast and Apple TV.
Popcorn Time arrives on iOS
Not with Apple’s approval, of course. Time4Popcorn launches an iOS app through the Cydia app store for jailbroken iPhones. It now has apps on all major desktop and mobile platforms.
Netflix gets worried
In a letter to its shareholders, Netflix describes Popcorn Time as one of its “biggest competitors.” The company points to a Google Trends graph from the Netherlands showing interest in the app outstripping Netflix in the last six months.
No jailbreak required
Time4Popcorn, now going by Popcorn-Time.se, finds a way to install its iOS app on iPhones that haven’t been jailbroken, making it far easier for people to get the app. It rockets to one million installs by June.
No more anarchy in the UK
Hollywood studios convince the UK government to block several sites hosting the Popcorn Time app. It’s the first time the studios have been granted such a block, with the judge noting that “no-one really uses Popcorn Time in order to watch lawfully available content.” In the months that follow similar bans are handed out in countries including Israel, Italy, and Denmark.
Popcorntime.io becomes the “official” Popcorn Time
Some of the original creators of Popcorn Time decide to endorse popcorntime.io as their successor. Popcorn Time’s original website is set up to forward to the new project for a time.
What’s worse than watching The Cobbler? Getting sued for watching it
11 people who streamed the Adam Sandler comedy The Cobbler are sued for piracy in one of the first US lawsuits to focus on use of Popcorn Time. Several later settle for a figure in the hundreds of dollars.
A change in leadership
Three core developers of popcorntime.io leave the project. A day later, TorrentFreak reports that the exodus occurred over a disagreement about the app’s inclusion of a VPN, which some developers believed made them a target for lawsuits. Those against the VPN lost and left.
Popcorn Time for your browser (comes and goes)
Another developer launches a version of Popcorn Time that works entirely inside of a web browser, making pirating moves and TV shows even easier. It’s quickly shut down by the MPAA. Then relaunched. Then shutdown. Then relaunched. Then shutdown.
What’s next for Popcorn Time?
Despite the efforts of film studios and ISPs, it’s still easy to access Popcorn Time or one of its many forks. More importantly, perhaps, the app has shown the way for the next generation of online piracy. It’s not enough now to simply make illegal content available, it has to also be easy to consume — offering a user interface on par with, or even better than, the legal alternatives. This user-friendly model is already spreading, with developers launching a Popcorn Time for porn and (briefly) a Popcorn Time for music.
With all the legal issues behind you, if you are looking forward to trying the app, you can download the latest version from the popcorn.io website. The application is available for Windows, Linux (both 32 bit and 64 bit), and Mac. The package comes as an archive, and you just have to extract it and run the binary file. We tested Popcorn Time version 0.3.2 beta on Ubuntu 14.04.
- No wait time – plays movies instantaneously
- Impressive UI
- Still in beta phase – expect some bugs
- Could eat up a big chunk of your monthly bandwidth
To conclude with, while we do not encourage using Popcorn Time, the final decision is obviously yours, as the risk the application brings depends completely on the country you are based in. Should you decide to try the app, the least we can ensure is that you won’t be disappointed by it – after all who doesn’t want free movies streamed instantly in HD?