Popcorn Time, the free video streaming app heralded as the pirated Netflix, shut down on March 14, only to be revived two days later.

Is Popcorn Time Legal?

Popcorn Time launched in February as a free streaming service to anyone with an Internet connection. The site streams pirated content, meaning that it is technically not legal, but it isn’t quite illegal either. Because the website does not host any of the pirated files, nor does it facilitate users to download pirated content, which would make them guilty of a crime, it is, technically, a completely legal sharing site. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be Netflix’s ugly step-sister, or an all-pirated version of YouTube for movies.

Popcorn Time doesn’t host any copyrighted content, the app is based in a decentralized model, working with services that already exist and are used daily by millions of people worldwide,” reads a description of the app when installed.

With Popcorn Time, users can stream pirated films without downloading them, and the site was well built and dependable, making it easy and its use widespread. According to the app’s original developers, Popcorn Time was installed “on every single country on Earth. Even the two that don’t have Internet access.”

Soon after the app launched, it attracted controversy, with commentators likening it to Napster for movies, and some even labeling it a ‘nightmare’ for Hollywood. However, what makes Popcorn Time interesting is that it never even attempted to turn a profit. Unlike Netflix and Hulu Plus, both legal streaming sites, Popcorn Time never charged users for access to videos, nor did it collect ad-based revenue.

“Popcorn Time is Napster for video without a company that is trying to turn it into a business. It is the epitome of online guerrilla warfare,” wrote Matt Burns of TechCrunch.

Indeed, a warning message appeared when one downloaded Popcorn Time, informing the user that the developers consider the app a “technology experiment to bring a simpler way to experience movies in a digital environment.”

Popcorn Time Developers Shut App Down

After only a few weeks, the developers behind the app, Pochoclín, decided to shut it down. They released a public statement announcing the closure, expressing their awe of the success Popcorn Time had enjoyed, but also stating that they have no interest in becoming an example or trailblazer in the eyes of the law.

Popcorn Time is shutting down today. Not because we ran out of energy, commitment, focus or allies. But because we need to move on with our lives.

“Our experiment has put us at the doors of endless debates about piracy and copyright, legal threats and the shady machinery that makes us feel in danger for doing what we love. And that’s not a battle we want a place in,” reads the statement.

Popcorn Time Reborn

Though its creators may have wanted to shut it down, Popcorn Time was revived two days later. Popcorn Time was programmed on GitHub, an open source website, making its code available to the public, and so, available to any person who would want to make their own similar program. Furthermore, the site streamed content from torrents available for download on other pirated content sites, one of which is YTS, which decided to revive Popcorn Time from its API. YTS developer ‘Jduncanator’ told TorrentFreak that it makes sense for YTS to relaunch Popcorn Time because they were already supplying the films – this does not add to their gamble with piracy laws.

“It’s as if we have built another interface to our website. We are no worse off managing the project than we would be just supplying the movies. It’s our vision at YTS that we see through projects like these and that just because they create a little stir in the public, it doesn’t mean they are shut down,” said Jduncanator.

The new version of Popcorn Time is extremely similar to the original and, like the original, is available for Windows, OS X and Linux.

Olivia Truffaut-Wong

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