Tech by VICE

Popcorn Time's Era of Lawsuit-Free Piracy Is Over

16 Popcorn Time users are being sued for allegedly streaming a bad movie.

by Jason Koebler
Sep 2 2015, 4:56pm

Image: Mark Lee/Flickr

A Hollywood studio is suing 16 alleged users of Popcorn Time, a Netflix-style piracy service that is so popular your mom probably uses it.

Since it was released early last year, Popcorn Time has become the go-to pirate service for anyone who doesn't have the know-how or patience to deal with torrents or other popular pirating methods. Its Netflix-like interface, wide selection, and ease of use have made it the piracy vehicle of choice for millions upon millions of users around the world.

Popcorn Time basically streams torrent files of television shows and movies as you're downloading them, which some consider better than torrents in a couple of ways: First, there's no wait to download something before you have to watch it, and, secondly, you don't have to store the (generally large) files on your hard drive after you've downloaded them.

Despite its popularity, regulators and studios have had little luck going after the service or its users. Though Popcorn Time's anonymous creators make no claims as to its safety ("use a VPN," they write on their site, referring to a service that helps anonymize IP addresses), the fact that no one had been sued or arrested for using the service likely led to lots of people thinking they were in the clear using it.

But a few recent developments suggest law enforcement around the world is trying to crack down on the service. An Italian court just ordered ISPs in the country to block the service; police in Denmark recently arrested two men who ran Popcorn Time information sites; and in Norway, an anti piracy group says it has rounded up the IP addresses of 75,000 Popcorn Time users in hopes of eventually … doing something with them ("These are records we can lawfully use, and it could be that someone gets a little surprise in the mail in the form of a letter. It's probable that something will happen in the fall," the group said in a statement).

And now, this: The Wall Street Journal reports that Millennium Films, the production company behind The Expendables, is suing 16 people in Oregon who allegedly streamed the film Survivor on Popcorn Time. The defendants are identified only by their IP addresses—their real identities will have to be subpoenaed during the process. This news comes on the heels of another lawsuit filed last month that is targeting 11 Popcorn Time users.

My request for comment from the team behind Popcorn Time was not returned, but a spokesperson for the group told the Journal that it's "really saddening to witness studios go after the 'little people.'"

Often, these types of cases are settled or fall apart before they go to trial, but not always. In any case, it's another reminder that there are very few ways to pirate material totally anonymously. Even though few people are ever actually hit with a lawsuit for pirating movies, it's always a risky behavior.