Popcorn Time makes piracy so easy, you might not realize it’s illegal

Update by Caleb Denison 3-14-2014 – After making headlines for a couple days, Popcorn Time’s creators have taken the site down. According to ARS Technica, even though the creators maintain they were within their legal rights, the site stirred up enough noise to convince them to take it down, quoting one of the creators as saying, “our experiment has put us at the doors of endless debates about piracy and copyright, legal threats and the shady machinery that makes us feel in danger for doing what we love. And that’s not a battle we want a place in.”

The more you try to explain the world of torrents to your less tech-savvy friends, the more convoluted and unexplainable the subject becomes. Between seeds, leeches, and upload ratios, it’s a hole that keeps getting deeper. It’s usually best to keep it simple with something like, “It’s basically like downloading a movie file … from 20 people at once.”  

But now those long-winded explanations and drawn-out instruction sheets are no longer necessary. Today, all one needs to avail themselves of torrented media is Popcorn Time.

Popcorn Time sprung up on the Internet about a month ago, but recent coverage by TorrentFreak has placed it under the spotlight. Now the site is starting to see some healthy traffic and word of mouth advertising. Currently under development for eventual Windows, Mac OSX and Linux releases, Popcorn Time is a handy tool for seasoned film (torrent) buffs and novice cinephiles alike. After an easy software installation, one can quickly browse through a library of new and still-in-theaters films and pick one to watch in 720p or 1080p HD resolution (it’s not all brand new or in-theaters stuff; we came across films as old as 1945’s Notorious and 1951’s Strangers on a Train).

As a quick quality test, we downloaded the software and booted up the recently-released Thor: The Dark World. Surprisingly, within 10 minutes of dialing in the Popcorn Time URL and downloading the needed software, we already had a 1080p copy of the film running beautifully (considering the quickness with which the program operates), with much of the film on the way to being entirely buffered. The movie had an impressive array of eight available subtitle language options.

The interface is extremely straightforward, with a Netflix instant queue-style quilt of film cover art popping up upon startup. The only other visual aspect is along the left-hand side — a fairly comprehensive genre list with categories ranging from Animation and Biography to Film-Noir and Fantasy, and a search field. You can probably expect some additions to the interface as the Beta train pushes further along.

Popcorn Time Software Thor Playing

In an interview with TorrentFreak, Argentina-based developer Sebastian explained that the app runs on very simple technology — it’s artfully centered upon a group of APIs, “one for torrents, another for the movie info, and another for the poster, [as well as] an API for the subtitles.” All of this API collaboration is via GitHub, making the end-product entirely automated with no hosting necessary. All Popcorn Time does is “take existing information and put it together,” according to Sebastian.

Sound’s great, right? Here’s the catch: While torrenting itself is not illegal, downloading and/or distributing copyrighted material is. The problem here is that Popcorn Time looks a lot like Netflix,  a popular and legal streaming service. It’s conceivable that users could go unaware that what they’re doing is against the law. And although law enforcement officials have been lax about pursuing even heavy downloaders, they have been known to go after those that upload considerable quantities of copyrighted media. And according to Popcorn Time’s FAQ, you do indeed seed (upload) parts of the movie while you watch.

Popcorn Time does state that “your movies will stay buried in a secret folder somewhere in your drive until you restart your computer. Then it will be gone for good.” This does seem like a pretty clever cover-your-tracks feature, but there will still be a significant breadcrumb trail left behind each time you watch a movie. Even though all the high-tech stuff is happening behind the scenes, you’re still torrenting.

All of the torrents come from YIFY Torrents, a non-private version of invite-only videophile film torrent sites such as PassThePopcorn. So: not only is Popcorn Time, at least for now, very illegal in the eyes of the RIAA and other industry watchdogs, it’s also not as secure in terms of user data encryption and privacy as a peer-to-peer network. Potential users would do well to keep all of this in mind before engaging in what, on the surface, looks just like Netflix streaming.

Home Theater

How much are the initials ‘LV’ worth? $700 if you put them on your earphones

If you're looking for truly wireless earbuds that make as much of a statement about the state of your finances as they do about your high-tech street cred, Louis Vuitton's Horizon earbuds fit the $995 bill.
Home Theater

New TV? Here's where to go to watch the best 4K content available

Searching for content for your new 4K UHD TV? Look no further. We have every major source of the best 4K content, along with the cost, hardware requirements, and features that make each service worth a look.
Home Theater

Here’s why you’re not getting Netflix in HD or 4K, and how to fix it

Are you having trouble watching your favorite movies or TV shows on Netflix in HD or 4K? We explain why loading takes so long, why the picture quality fluctuates, and what you can do about it.
Movies & TV

How much does Netflix cost? Here’s a pricing breakdown of its plans

Wondering how much a Netflix subscription costs? You're not the only one. That's why we put together a quick-hit guide covering all the Netflix plans, whether you want to opt for 4K streaming or a disc-based option.
Virtual Reality

Think virtual reality is just for games? These awesome apps will change your mind

Virtual reality isn't all about gaming. Swim with turtles, paint in 3D, and immerse yourself in some unique experiences the platform has to offer with our curated list of the best VR apps.
Home Theater

What’s new on Amazon Prime Video (February 2019)

Amazon Prime Video adds new titles each month that are available for free to all Prime members. Check out our list to find all the content hitting Amazon Prime Video in January and February, from new original series to classic films.
Features

Netflix’s latest price increase heralds the end of streaming’s golden age

Netflix’s recent price rise is just the latest in a string of signs that streaming’s golden age is nearly over. As more services enter the fray, content will be further partitioned, signaling the end of streaming’s good old days.
Home Theater

What are HDMI ARC and eARC? Here’s how they can simplify your home theater

HDMI ARC is one of the coolest TV features at your disposal. But if you're like most folks, you have no idea how it works, if you even know what it is at all. Here's our primer on HDMI ARC, as well as the next generation technology, eARC.
Home Theater

Looking to cut cable? Here’s everything you need to know about Pluto TV

Pluto TV offers plenty of entertainment in a fashion similar to live internet TV services, only at no cost — you don’t even need to register. Too good to be true? Here’s everything you need to know.
Home Theater

Want to mirror your smartphone or tablet onto your TV? Here's how

A vast arsenal of devices exists to allow sending anything on your mobile device to your TV. Our in-depth guide shows you how to mirror content from your smartphone or tablet to the big screen from virtually any device available.
Deals

Need a smart speaker? Amazon knocks $50 off Sonos Beam soundbar with Alexa

If you're looking to add some oomph to your home audio setup, then through February 3, the Alexa-enabled Sonos Beam is on sale for $50 off, bringing this excellent smart sound bar down to just $349 on Amazon.
Home Theater

Walmart abandons its plans for a streaming Netflix killer

Rumored plans for a Walmart owned, Vudu-labeled Netflix streaming killer have been shelved according to a new report from CNBC. The billions it would have needed to invest in order to compete apparently gave the mega retailer cold feet.
Home Theater

Dolby’s secret recording studio app may soon exit stealth mode

In secret testing since June, Dolby's stealth recording and social network app may soon be ready to make an appearance. Dolby 234 blends unique noise-canceling tech with Instagram-like audio filters.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.