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The rise of Netflix has corresponded with a decline in piracy, largely due to ease of access. Sure, you can easily find countless of hours of entertainment on any number of torrent websites and similar services. But even if you're tech savvy enough to wade through all the sketchy porn ads, torrents can be risky, from both malware and legal standpoints. Netflix (or Hulu, HBO Go, or any other streaming service) is simple: Just load a video and go.
It may not solve the legal problem, but a group of programmers have come up with a new service that basically removes usability concerns from the piracy equation—at least for video content. Popcorn Time, which is currently available in beta form for Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) or higher, is pretty much identical to Netflix for all intents and purposes. The only difference is that all the content therein is pirated, of course.
According to the site's FAQ, it's designed to download and stream torrented video that's "buried in a secret folder somewhere in your drive until you restart your computer," at which point it's deleted. In essence, it's a torrent client dressed up with a better presentation. At face value, Popcorn Time has the potential to be truly huge.
But as the site's terms of service notes, you may be violating copyright law, depending on where you are. So while you may not have to pay up to watch American Hustle (plus you'll get to see it earlier than people using iTunes or Amazon Video), legally speaking, you should treat the service as any other torrent site.
Popcorn Time's creator isn't that concerned with legal threats, however. The Buenos Aires-based programmer who was only identified as Sebastian told TorrentFreak that he doesn't expect any legal repercussions since "they are just repackaging existing content, without a commercial angle."
“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,” Sebastian said.
Considering how popular a service like this could quickly become, I'm not sure how much longer Sebastian and company will hold to that principle. A report from last month claimed that the world's top piracy sites make hundreds of millions of dollars every year off advertising revenue—much of it coming from the very companies trying to tamp down on piracy.
But according to TorrentFreak, Sebastian and the rest of the Popcorn Time team are all avid Netflix users and moviegoers themselves. And really, they're just looking for an easier way to make more movies widely available as a result.
“We hate that we don’t have the chance to watch some movies at home. Popcorn Time is an experiment to show that you can do something better for the users, and that you can do it with BitTorrent,” Sebastian said. Hey, Netflix— your move.