It has been argued, and quite successfully, that piracy can be fought back by making content readily available to paying customers. Services such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu are based on this very model and appears to be largely successful, both in business and in cutting down piracy so much that BitTorrent traffic has been reduced in North America to only 7.4% from 31% five years ago, while Netflix now accounts for nearly one-third of total internet traffic in the continent. This is all great if you live in the U.S. But what if you don’t?
Movie streaming through the BitTorrent protocol has been tried in the past with mixed results. Although very erratic, almost every worthy BitTorrent client today supports streaming intended to allow users to watch movies while it’s still being downloaded. But at its core, these are still BitTorrent clients that require a certain level of knowledge and understanding to use.
A new application called Popcorn Time makes the process as easy as Netflix. Available for Windows, Mac and Linux, Popcorn Time lets you stream the latest movies in various qualities complete with subtitles, if needed, with just a couple clicks. The software uses BitTorrent in the backend to find and download movies, but eliminates the usual hassle of wading through sketchy torrent sites and waiting for download to complete. The entire process is transparent to the user.
“The technology behind the app is very simple. We consume a group of APIs, one for the torrents, another for the movie info, and another for the poster. We also have an API for the subtitles. Everything is automated, we don’t host anything, but take existing information and put it together,” Sebastian says
The torrent files all come from YTS (formerly YIFY), which has an API Popcorn Time taps into. The application can search this database and allows users to stream the torrent on demand. When finished the app will continue to share for a while after the download is finished, to avoid leeching. It’s not known whether Popcorn Time uses any other movie databases, so the selection may be limited to only those ripped and uploaded by YIFY.
Evidently, using Popcorn Time would be breaking a lot of copyright laws and the program creators are quick to acknowledge the legal dangers. A disclaimer appears each time you launch the application.
The developers, however, aren’t particularly worried.
“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.
Whatever Sebastian feels, Hollywood is bound to be upset and will likely attack Popcorn Time, seize domain and let loose a bunch of lawyers, but being open source closing down the project is going to be next to impossible.