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What is Popcorn Time and why is your ISP blocking it?

Popcorn Time

Popular piracy app targeted in latest round of court orders

The Popcorn Time application is the latest target of an anti-piracy clampdown by movie rights holders. The Motion Picture Association has won a High Court order forcing Britain’s biggest ISPs to block eight sites promoting Popcorn Time. 

Popcorn Time is, as the court order explains, a BitTorrent client with a difference. Instead of downloading the different pieces of a film in an ad-hoc order from various peers, Popcorn Time downloads the parts sequentially, prioritising those at the beginning of the film. This means the viewer can get on with watching the pirated movie almost straight away, rather than waiting for the whole file to be downloaded.  

The High Court judge, Mr Justice Birss, ruled that it was “manifest” that the Popcorn Time application was used to watch pirated films and TV shows. “No-one really uses Popcorn Time in order to watch lawfully available content,” he ruled. “One can therefore entirely sympathise with the claimants in seeking to block its operation and use.”

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He did, however, draw the line at blocking sites that were purely hosting the Popcorn Time app, but not pointing to torrents of pirated shows. “It is the Popcorn Time application, when running on the user’s computer, that provides catalogued and indexed connections to the sources of infringing copies of the claimants’ copyright works,” the judge stated. “The operators of the PTAS [Popcorn Time application source ] sites are facilitating the making available of the content by providing this tool but that is a different matter. In my judgment the scope of the act of communication to the public cannot be stretched as far as to cover the operation of a site which simply makes the Popcorn Time application itself available for download.”

That could be regarded as something of an own goal for the Motion Picture Association, which has now raised the awareness of Popcorn Time, but is powerless to prevent customers of BT Broadband, Virgin Media and others from downloading it. 

More than 100 sites have now been blocked as part of the clampdown on sites facilitating piracy, at enormous expense to both the rights holders and the five major broadband providers (BT, Virgin, TalkTalk, EE and Sky) who are forced to implement the court orders. Smaller ISPs are exempt from all of the court orders, meaning your access to pirated material depends on which broadband provider you use, although even customers of the major ISPs can find ways around the court-imposed blocks. 

It will likely take a couple of weeks for the Popcorn Time site bans to come into effect. 

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