Why Hollywood is Suing Popcorn Time Users

Popcorn Time

Source: Popcorn Time

Ever since the dawn of Napster and BitTorrent, Hollywood and the music industry has been battling with Internet pirating. It’s been a long struggle that’s culminated in FBI raids, a maze of complicated lawsuits, and in some cases even arrests and jail time. It’s part of the constant war for content, that’s had for-profit businesses trying to keep their content from essentially being stolen off the digital shelves, while users argue that it’s a victimless crime. The driving force behind opposition though has been simple: That torrenting is against the law.

Whether or not any of us feel justified in pirating content, there’s no denying the laws as they exist simply do not support the vast infrastructure of illegal downloads and streams. The typical approach to combat this has been to simply take down any domain illegally hosting content. The Pirate Bay has seen its site get taken down on numerous occasions, each time popping up with a new domain name hosting the a vast library of Torrents. This approach is rooted in the idea of going after the core issue rather than symptoms. It hasn’t always been that way, and the methods of the past are resurfacing in the wake of the newest mode of pirating, Popcorn Time.

Popcorn Time’s basic structure is unique in the realm of illegal content. Rather than a user simply picking a movie to download straight to their hard drive, it pulls from an existing Torrent, temporarily downloads the file, and streams it directly to the user’s computer. Basically, think Netflix with a far more extensive (and unlicensed) library. As a program downloaded to individual machines pulling from millions of Torrent files, it’s not as simple as simply taking down a domain. In light of this, we’re seeing tactics that haven’t been utilized since the early days of Napster, Kazaa, and Limewire.

Back when there were no legal safeguards in place to combat native programs like Napsters and Limewire, the music industry went after individual users downloading the content. Essentially, a teenager downloading the latest music from their favorite artist could find themselves the defendant in a six figure lawsuit. Then the industry figured out ways to disable the programs, and it no longer became necessary to sue children. According to The Wall Street Journal though, we may be returning to those days with Popcorn Time:

A production company affiliated with Millennium Films said Tuesday it was suing 16 users of the Popcorn Time website, which allows users to download movies and other entertainment. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon, targets users who downloaded and distributed copies of the Millennium feature “Survivor.”

These are methods we haven’t seen since the early days of pirating, and only now are resurfacing thanks in large part to the difficulty Hollywood has had in shutting down Popcorn Time. Without a clear strategy to remove Popcorn Time’s ability to natively pull from a vast library of existing Torrents, they’re left with one option: Going after the user (read: You). If they can’t remove the access to the technology, the only thing Hollywood can do is incentivize people to not use said technology. It’s not difficult to track the IP-address of someone using Popcorn Time, making it that much easier to move forward on pricey lawsuits.

It represents an interesting dynamic in the world of pirating, and in a way is an admission from the powers that be that they have no way to truly shut down Popcorn Time. Obviously, the hope is that taking users to court will discourage others from using the illegal streaming service, but the simple truth of the matter is that people will never stop trying to avoid paying for content. One of two things is going to happen in the immediate future: 1. Hollywood and the U.S. government will find a way to shut down Popcorn Time for good (not likely), or 2. Lawsuits will continue to ramp up as more users are punished (more likely). The new battlefield is far more complex than we’ve ever seen, and the war for free entertainment will continue to rage on.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest

More from Entertainment Cheat Sheet: