The Popcorn Time software is generally considered legal, but watching free movies on it is probably illegal and could end up costing you a few thousand dollars in fines. The program runs using torrents, so it’s basically the same as using any other torrent client in terms of legality, and the risk of getting caught is the same. The laws governing the unlicensed distribution/downloading of copyrighted content vary quite a bit, but the bottom line is that it’s safest to assume that using Popcorn Time to get free content is not legal, no matter where you are.
What is Popcorn Time?
Started in 2014 by a few programmers in Buenos Aires, Popcorn Time serves as an open-source Netflix-alternative based on BitTorrent technology. It lets you stream torrents of movies and TV shows without having to wait for the download to complete, making it easy for you to watch your favorite films and television series. Also, since it is built to work with torrents, when you download a film, you’re also sending it to other users, just like with other BitTorrent clients.
Despite its quick initial success, the developers took their code off GitHub and closed down the project within a few months due to mounting legal threats.
That set off a seemingly-perpetual chain of new Popcorn Time branches launching, getting shut down, and being replaced by new teams with new versions. This unusual development cycle has obviously been a bit disruptive, but none of the shutdowns have really put a damper on it for long, which is why Popcorn Time is still going strong.
Can you get in trouble for using Popcorn Time?
The software’s never-ending legal problems should be a good hint that using it is a potentially-risky move. People have gotten in trouble for watching content on the platform: lawsuits and even arrests have been made over Popcorn Time use and support. Most famously, in 2015 eleven people were sued for watching, of all things, the Adam Sandler movie “The Cobbler.”
Just as with torrenting, media companies can easily monitor the IP addresses that are downloading and uploading their material. Your IP address is right there for anyone else with the torrent to see (unless you make serious effort to mask it). If a media company or their representative finds it, they can track you down through your ISP.
What happens after that depends on where you are. In Germany, where the laws are quite strict, you may have to pay a large fine. In the U.S, torrenters occasionally get hit with lawsuits or demands for payment, but you’ll more commonly receive a letter from your ISP telling you to stop. There may be consequences if you ignore too many of these letters, like having your Internet speed reduced or your personal information being given to “copyright trolls” that will come after you demanding money.
Most countries won’t really throw the book at you for torrenting, but laws are always changing, and if the media industry decides it wants to hit you with a serious penalty, chances are it’ll have the legal backing to do it. There’s rarely any threat of jail time, but fines can easily be thousands of dollars.
In short, you’ll have to look up your local torrenting regulations if you want to find out Popcorn Time’s legal status for you, but you should generally expect to find that using it will be more or less against the law.
Bottom line: Popcorn Time is torrenting
If there’s one thing you should remember about Popcorn Time, it’s the fact that it’s a torrenting program. BitTorrent is a very cool, very legal technology, but the vast majority of the content shared using the protocol is very pirated and mostly illegal. If you don’t want to break the law, don’t use Popcorn Time. If you don’t care about breaking the law and just don’t want to get caught, well, your safest option is, again, not using Popcorn Time, but there are ways to use it surreptitiously. If you don’t care about breaking the law or getting caught, you might be in jail already – that’s a pretty risky way to live your life.