Is Popcorn Time Legal, and Should You Use It?

Popcorn Time is a free, open-source application that lets you stream torrents of movies and TV shows for free. The software uses BitTorrent’s P2P technology and enables you to stream content without having to wait for the download to complete, making it easy for you to watch your favourite films and television series. The content is downloaded in a secret folder on your hard drive and gets deleted on system reboot.

The application presents thumbnails and film titles much like the way the popular subscription-based content streaming service Netflix does.

popcorn-time-home

There are two major categories to choose from: Movies and TV Series. The app also lets you filter results based on genre and other factors like popularity, updated, year, and name. Click the gear icon located towards the top right corner to choose the quality of the stream, the language of the default subtitle and the size, as well as set options for Internet connection.

To start using the app, just click on any of your favourite movies or TV series, and it will show you a brief overview of what you’re going to watch. There is also an option watch the trailer.

popcorn-time-overview

Click on the “Watch Now” button at the bottom, and the content will start downloading. But as promised, the app will begin streaming within a few seconds.

Popcorn Time was developed by a Buenos Aires, Argentina-based group who believed that piracy was a service problem created by an industry that portrays innovation as a threat to their antique recipe to collect value. Given the kind of service the app provides, and that, too, without any ads or premium account, it was just a matter of time before the app started gaining media attention. But, not every body was thrilled with what the app was doing.

After receiving wide coverage from media outlets, the app was shut down back in March this year, with creators claiming legal threats from the companies who owned the content. Being an open source project, the “Napster for movies” or the “Netflix of pirated content,” as it was popularly called, made a comeback, with many groups forking the project. Chief among them was the torrent site YTS that took over the project.

Well, that’s not an easy question to answer, but we at Make Tech Easier feel that it’s our moral responsibility to let you know the risks of using the app. The first thing that you should keep in mind is that most of whatever you view through Popcorn Time is pirated. Secondly, the application uses your system to seed the movie to others once you are done watching it. So, depending upon where are you based, that could be illegal and may attract a fine (or even a jail term).

For example, in the US, the Copyrights Group monitors bittorrent swarms of selected movies, records IP addresses of the file sharers, files suit in order to obtain subpoenas to force ISPs to release the identities of the users, and then sends out letters to these users threatening to sue and offering settlements in the $1,000 to $3,000 range. On the other hand, there are countries like Canada where it’s legal to download or stream content provided that you don’t try to reproduce it.

Although developers of Popcorn Time say that there is nothing illegal about the application as it just acts like a search engine to find content that is already available publicly, experts believe that the biggest legal problem is that the app encourages users to stream pirated content, making it legally liable for distributing unlicensed content (see Inducement rule).

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.

Pros

  • No wait time – plays movies instantaneously
  • Impressive UI

Cons

  • Still in beta phase – expect some bugs
  • Could eat up a big chunk of your monthly bandwidth

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?

Let us know what you think about Popcorn Time, and if you will use it.