What Happened To Popcorn Time? Why Was It Shut Down?

Executive Summary:

Popcorn Time is an open-source software that allows anyone to download and stream media files such as videos.

Popcorn Time was shut down in January 2022 because interest in the platform had significantly declined.

What Is Popcorn Time?

Popcorn Time is an open-source software that allows anyone to download and stream media files such as videos.

The platform utilizes torrenting technology to download the content, which is then streamed within its app.

Being built on BitTorrent means that the platform does not host any of the videos itself. Instead, it utilizes a peer network that is comprised of multiple participants from which one downloads the video.

The video is then downloaded in sequential order to ensure a smooth playing experience. Normally, when downloading a file through a regular torrenting network, arbitrary bits of a file are downloaded without any specified order.

Another key characteristic of torrenting is the seeding of a file. That means while you consume the file, it is simultaneously shared with other peers on the network.

This is also where the legal questionability of Popcorn Time originates. Uploading and downloading copyrighted files, as executed during the seeding process, is illegal in many jurisdictions.

Popcorn Time has therefore been shut down on multiple occasions only to resurface under a new domain name.

Various forks (different versions of the software), due to their illegality as well as open-source nature, have therefore been released over the years. Forks are mostly distributed via GitHub.

Those versions are, furthermore, available on various platforms such as Windows, macOS, Android, and Linux.

What Happened To Popcorn Time?

Popcorn Time, which was created by a group of anonymous Argentinian web developers, was initially released in March 2014.

Ever since its release, only one person from the original founding team has come out in public to acknowledge their role in the project.

That person, who was initially known as Sebastián or Pochoclín, is Federico Abad, a designer based out of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Abad, so the story goes, got the idea for Popcorn Time after going through his own problems of consuming newly released movies. In Argentina, where he’s from, most movies are only released six months after their initial cinema launch.

On top of that, internet speed at the time was very slow, making it cumbersome to watch movies via popular streaming services.

Lastly, although torrent websites already existed, using them was not intuitive at all and required at least some technical know-how. Abad, a designer by training, wanted to create something that even his mother could use.

He decided to rent an apartment in Buenos Aires’ Palermo district where all of the developers involved in Popcorn Time would code away.

After a few weeks of working on the project, they officially unveiled Popcorn Time in early March 2014. The software was initially released for Mac, Windows, and Linux devices. Popcorn Time, in order to show downloadable content, tapped into an API from YTS (formerly YIFY).

The founders initially shared their creation on the famous Hacker News forum from which growth spiraled. Various media outlets such as TechCrunch or The Verge began covering it.

Within days, hundreds of thousands of people downloaded the software. Additionally, the project amassed close to 100 contributors on GitHub.

Unfortunately, the legal dubiousness of the project would soon come back to haunt the founders. Days after the release, Mega removed the software’s installer only to reinstate it hours later.

Then, on March 14th, 2014, a mere two weeks after the launch, the founding team announced that it would stop working on the project. Hollywood came knocking on their doors as well.

One of the lawyers working for film studio Warner Bros. tracked down the developers and their respective LinkedIn pages.

Despite the fact that the founders were not making any money from their creation, the thought of potential lawsuits made many of them nervous, to say the least. After all, previous torrent sites such as LimeWire ended up paying tens of millions in fines to settle their own lawsuits.

However, due to its open-source nature, this was far from the end for the project. Just days after the shutdown, other developers revived it from the dead. More precisely, members of YTS, which was supplying the torrent links, became one of the main known forks.

Over the coming weeks, multiple versions of the software were removed and reinstated back again. Meanwhile, one of the most productive teams soon began to expand Popcorn Time’s capabilities.

In mid-May, the team behind time4popcorn.eu released an Android version. That same team subsequently added support for Google’s Chromecast and the Apple TV. Months later, in September, the team even managed to release an app for iOS (which was only available on jailbroken devices).

Unfortunately, the team behind time4popcorn.eu had its very own set of issues as well. Its domain name, soon after releasing the iOS app, was suspended by the EURid registry. As a result, the platform was moved to popcorn-time.se.

Meanwhile, the team behind popcorntime.io released a VPN in December, which became the first time one of the popular forks began to monetize their popularity. Making money off of what many deem an illegal service would certainly increase one’s exposure to lawsuits and fines.

Despite its legal woes, other players in the industry would soon take notice. In January 2015, Netflix, during its annual letter, named Popcorn Time as one of its “biggest competitors” – mainly because of its design, which was largely inspired by Netflix.

Four months later, the U.K.’s High Court ruled that its internet providers, namely Sky, BT, EE, TalkTalk, and VirginMedia, would need to automatically block any page related to Popcorn Time.

Meanwhile, the teams continued to plug away. A browser-based version of the platform was released in May 2015. Ironically, that version was shut down a week later after its servers became overwhelmed by the demand.

Its popularity didn’t diminish, though. By the end of June, its various websites would be routinely ranked on top when googling “popcorn”, even above websites like Wikipedia. In some countries, such as Norway, close to a fifth of the population were consuming pirated content – most of whom did that on Popcorn Time.

Various other local anti-privacy organizations, including Israel’s ZIRA, filed lawsuits against the anonymous teams. Luckily, not every country ended up bulging and, in some instances, even dropped those lawsuits to keep Popcorn Time alive.

Part of the reason was the fact that it was impossible to block access to Popcorn Time. Some of the forks had moved their hosting to CloudFlare, which allowed them to bypass European and other hostile ISPs.

In August 2015, the original founders came out with a public announcement and backed the popcorntime.io fork. Not long after, co-founder Abad revealed his identity as well.

Law enforcement also continued to crack down on users. That same month, Danish police arrested two males for running an explainer site (and not a fork). They were later sentenced to a six-month probation, community service, and more than $60,000 in fines.

Towards the end of 2015, more and more film studios began filing lawsuits against Popcorn Time users. Engagement, as a result, began to decrease since people feared being prosecuted and subjected to so-called copyright troll cases. Defendants would often end up paying between a few hundreds to thousands of dollars in fines.

Additionally, some teams began to dismantle themselves. Disagreements over monetization (and resulting legal problems) led some team members to leave the projects they were involved in. In some cases, forks (such as popcorntime.io) would be shut down altogether.

The Motion Picture Association (MPAA) was oftentimes the leading force behind many of those lawsuits. Ironically, some of the previously popular folks (such as popcorntime.io) now redirect to the MPAA’s website.

While the popular .io fork eventually resurfaced in February 2016, its popularity had diminished to the point of no return. Another reason for the declining interest was the fact that the streaming industry began to heat up.

Established players such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO continuously added new original content while entrants such as Disney+ began to pour hundreds of millions into content themself (other experiments, such as Quibi, didn’t end up too well).

Trust certainly didn’t increase when, in May 2017, reports emerged that hackers were hiding malicious files in the subtitles of both KODI and Popcorn Time videos.

In some cases, such as with Ukrainian resident Stanislav Amelychyts, law enforcement was able to uncover the actors behind the forks and take them to court. More and more sources, such as third-party app store alternative Aptoide, dropped Android versions of the platform.

Some of the original .io team, after the breakout of the novel coronavirus forced people to quarantine at home, released a new version (4.0) of the popular fork.

Unfortunately, not long after, GitHub removed various pages belonging to some forks after the MPAA filed a copyright lawsuit against the open-source platform. However, since the source code itself is not subject to copyright law, it was reinstated two weeks later.

Over the coming months, more and more settlements with movie associations and studios had been agreed upon. Popcorn Time entered the news cycle once again when, in January 2022, one of its most popular forks (popcorn-time.tw) was shut down for good.

The platform, despite dozens upon dozens of shutdowns, continues to be accessible through a variety of different forks.

Why Was Popcorn Time Shut Down?

Popcorn Time was shut down in January 2022 because interest in the platform had significantly declined.

This time, the Popcorn-Time.tw fork was removed. In their good-bye note, the team simply stated that “the world doesn’t need Popcorn Time anymore.”

As previously stated, streaming platforms such as Netflix, HBO, Amazon, and others have continuously added content in the past few years.

On top of that, movie releases are now often either directly released on those platforms or a few weeks after their cinema premiere.

Additionally, a plethora of other illegal streaming sites, which don’t utilize torrent technology (and thus make it tougher for users to get caught), have been launched in the last few years.

Other times, Popcorn Time was shut down because developers behind those projects had faced legal pressure or even lawsuits. In other instances, team members had major disagreements about the direction of a given project.

Hi folks, Viktor checking in! Years of experience in various tech-related roles have led me to start this blog, which I hope provides you with as much enjoyment to read as I have writing the content.