Popcorn Time might be an extremely easy way to watch pirated movies and TV shows for free, but it’s not necessarily safe.
The makers of the 2014 Adam Sandler comedy The Cobbler have sued 11 people for copyright infringement, specifically calling out Popcorn Time as their software of choice, TorrentFreak reports. The lawsuit, filed at a federal court in Oregon, are seeking statutory damages of up to $150,000, though it’s likely the defendants will receive settlement offers for considerably less.
Popcorn Time is a free program for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android that acts as a sort of pirate Netflix. Users get a beautiful, ad-free interface for browsing movies and TV shows—including the latest releases—and can watch them on demand with just a click.
It’s incredibly easy to use, but behind the scenes it’s a lot like any other torrent software that downloads and redistributes movie files through peer-to-peer sharing. Using Popcorn Time without masking your activity through a virtual private network is risky, given that movie producers have a long history of monitoring peer-to-peer networks and suing individual file sharers. The lawsuit over The Cobbler appears to be the first instance of Popcorn Time users being targeted in particular.
The developers of Popcorn Time argue that the software itself isn’t illegal—and movie industry attempts to wipe it out have gotten nowhere—but that using it to watch copyrighted movies can run afoul of the law. The makers of The Cobbler have turned these disclaimers against the defendants, noting that users are given “multiple notices that they are downloading and installing software for the express purpose of committing theft and contributing the ability of others to commit theft” through torrent networks.
Why this matters: So far, the lawsuit is just an isolated case, covering less than a dozen people in a single state who used Popcorn Time to watch one movie. Still, it serves as a warning for users who believe the software is less risky than traditional torrent sites: If you’re willing to pay for a VPN (one of which is built into Popcorn Time itself), you’re better off using methods that don’t involve peer-to-peer networks at all—or, you know, obeying the law.