Hollywood studios begin suing Popcorn Time users

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

September 3, 2015

Since its launch at the beginning of last year, Popcorn Time has for many people become the holy grail of piracy. Now, in what amounts to the first sign of real trouble for Popcorn Time users, Hollywood studio have begun suing alleged users of the service.

Popcorn Time is a free application that delivers pirated media through a Netflix-like menu system.  It is extremely easy to use and has an enormous selection of media for users to choose from – often the latest and most desirable movies or TV shows.

Thanks to its user-friendly interface, Popcorn Time is the perfect place to torrent if you are too lazy (or don’t have the know-how) to BitTorrent the media yourself. Add to that, the fact that Popcorn Time lets you stream videos within seconds of making a choice – no waiting for downloads, or large file stored on your PC –  and it becomes pretty easy to understand why the service has become so popular.

Despite its popularity (it has been downloaded by millions of people around the world), movie studios and regulators had been struggling to find a way to go after either the service or its users. With the exception of fines being issued to people for pirating ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, Popcorn Time users appeared to be getting away with it.

That is not to say that there has not always been an element of danger involved in using Popcorn time.

Popcorn Time’s anonymous developers have always been honest about its safety of use, or lack thereof. Always forthcoming on its website about the fact that the software is a piracy tool, which in most parts of the world means it is enabling criminality.  For this reason, Popcorn Time creators have always advised for the use of a VPN to obscure users’ IP addresses.

Now, some things are happening that will make those that did heed the advice to use a secure VPN glad that they did. Firstly, Anti-piracy groups in Europe and the US are fighting back against the software. In Norway Rettighets Alliansen (Rights Alliance) claim that Popcorn Time has single-handedly led to an explosion of piracy in the nation and have already warned users that they have begun monitoring them.  

Norway is a nation of  5.1 million people and is a country that prides itself on having nearly completely eradicated music piracy. Now however, anti-piracy campaigners feel that Norway is once again facing a critical situation.  Rights Alliance claims that around 750,000 people in Norway now pirate TV shows and movies, with 250,000 of those cases coming via Popcorn Time.

Willy Johansen, the head of Rights Alliance, claims that his organisation has been watching Pirates carefully. According to Johansen, they have managed to compile a list of around 75,000 people who are using Popcorn time to break copyright laws,

‘We are sitting today with a record of some users of [Popcorn Time] in Norway. 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.’

At this stage, it is not yet clear whether Rights Alliance can carry through with this threat. For now, Rights Alliance is collecting infringing IP addresses in accordance with a revision to copyright laws that came into effect in 2013. Finding out who the people behind those IP addresses are, however, requires more work explains Data Protection Authority Director Bjorn Erik Thon,

‘In relation to the legislation we have in Norway, Rights Alliance is fully entitled to collect IP addresses of Popcorn Time users. This is not problematic as we see it.  Rights Alliance may collect IP addresses, but to find out the identities of who is behind them requires a trial.’

Norway is not the only place striking back either. In Italy, a court has ordered ISPs to block the service completely. This means a VPN will be the only way to get past geoblocking and download the application. In Denmark, two men have been arrested for running websites that offer Popcorn Time information.

Finally, in the most severe Popcorn Time cases so far, 11 people are being sued for pirating Adam Sandler’s ‘The Cobbler’. While Millennium Films, the movie studio responsible for the creation of ‘The Expendables’, is also suing 16 people from Oregon for allegedly pirating the movie ‘Survivor’.

Popcorn time creators have replied to the sudden mass of action against its users by commenting, ‘it’s really saddening to witness studios go after the ‘little people.’ What is perhaps saddest of all, however, is that none of this would be happening if pirates had just followed everyone’s advice and used a secure VPN service.  

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