Popcorn Time: Piracy made easy, but no less illegal

Movie lovers be warned: Just because the complex world of torrents has been simplified, that doesn't make it legal

Sarah Gray
March 11, 2014 9:00PM (UTC)

"Downloading copyrighted material may be illegal in your country. Use at your own risk." This is the warning you'll see when you scroll down the homepage for Popcorn Time, a torrent streaming site that boasts movies both old and still in theaters.

What makes Popcorn Time different from other streaming sites? For one, how it works. Once you've downloaded the software, which has been developed for Mac, Windows and Linux, you can select a movie and play it in either 720p or 1080p HD. Popcorn Time uses torrents, which Digital Trends puts nicely in layman's terms, "It’s basically like downloading a movie file … from 20 people at once." The Popcorn Time FAQ explains, "You're going to be uploading bits and bits of the movie for as long as you're watching it on Popcorn Time." Once you're done watching, the movie stays buried in a secret file on your computer until you restart and it disappears.


Don't get too excited, cinephiles! Unlike Netflix or Amazon Prime, Popcorn Time isn't paying those who own the rights to these movies. So, while using torrents is not illegal, downloading and distributing copyrighted materials can land users in a world of legal trouble. Don't be fooled by the site's simple interface and automatic deletion of files. As Digital Trends points out:

"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."

Another downside to its user-friendly simplicity? The possible ease with which your personal data could be tracked by the government or anti-piracy watchdogs. The site itself isn't worried about legal issues. According to TorrentFreak, one of the designers said:

“We don’t expect legal issues. 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.”

Even if Popcorn Time doesn't expect any issues, Hollywood is certainly not going to be happy.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

MORE FROM Sarah Gray

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Cool Culture Illegal Innovation Movies Piracy Popcorn Time Technology

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