Digital Life

Popcorn Time over but pirate movie streaming technology lives on

The film industry may have just experienced its Napster moment, complete with Popcorn.

Legal authorities are failing in their attempts to suppress a new open-source piracy technology that allows anybody to stream virtually any movie or TV show with a single click.

On March 11 a group of developers launched Popcorn Time, a YouTube style interface that streams pirated movies - from latest releases to film classics.

Popcorn Time dramatically simplifies the process of downloading movies illegally. Until now, online movie piracy has typically occurred via peer-to-peer file-sharing technology Bittorrent, which allows users to download files via an application that pulls parts of a movie from a range of different ''host computers'' to build a complete movie file.

Bittorrent has become the pirates' weapon of choice as it circumvents the traditional avenues of control. Website operators don't host any illegal files. Instead they host Bittorrent files that, when opened in a torrent program, download and assemble a file from other computers in the network.

Popcorn Time has turned this entire process into a single-click, allowing viewers to simply select a movie to stream.

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It became an instant hit on social media websites such as Reddit, where there is now a special category for the software, and Hacker News, where users wrote more than  a thousand comments discussing the ethics of paying for content.

''Paying these animals [Hollywood] only encourages their deviant behaviour,'' by user ''mwally'', was a typical comment.

Popcorn Time's founders, an Argentinian-based collective calling itself ''Pocholin'', were convinced the project was legal because they did not host any of the content.

However, Hollywood had other ideas. Pocholin said that following legal threats and pressure from a ''shadowy machine'' it discontinued its involvement in the project - while maintaining its innocence.

But because the project was open-source, the code was freely available online and the application could again be released by anyone.

YTS, a torrent website, committed to developing the original source code and other new versions known as ''forks'', has since sprung up. A YTS developer told news website TorrentFreak that these controversial projects should live on.

''That stir is exactly what the public needs and it's already evident that people are becoming more aware of copyright-related issues,'' the developer said.

''We are no worse off managing the project than we would be just supplying the movies.''

The film industry's battle against torrent streaming has just begun but if the Napster wars were any indication, the war's already over.

File-sharing application Napster became the focal point of the music industry's protracted legal action fighting the scourge of software that let users listen to music for free. Ultimately the labels lost, striking cut-price deals and embracing streaming free services such as YouTube and Spotify. The industry's revenues never recovered.

''Popcorn Time and countless similar applications show where the road ends for Hollywood,'' said the New Zealand-based Kim Dotcom, who is currently fighting extradition to the US over accusations that his file-sharing website cost the entertainment industry $US500 million.

''Ultimately it's a cat-and-mouse game Hollywood can't win by force, but only with smarter internet offerings.''

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