'Netflix for piracy' Popcorn Time saved by fans

Popcorn Time homepage
Image caption The service was described as a "nightmare scenario" for the movie industry

A service that offers a Netflix-like interface for accessing pirated films has resurfaced after being closed over the weekend.

Popcorn Time allows free access to movies by streaming content shared illegally as BitTorrent files.

Its makers said they were closing the "experimental" service, but other developers have begun working on it.

One analyst described the software as a "nightmare scenario" for the movie industry.

The software, which launched last week, has been made open-source and posted on a popular code-sharing website.

This means that anyone is now free to use, adapt and, crucially, host the software - making it more difficult to close down.

It also means that while the original Popcorn Time makers decided to "close" the service at the end of last week, it has now essentially taken on a life of its own. It has been translated into 32 different languages.

'Decentralised model'

Popcorn Time lists thousands of movies that can be viewed instantly.

It is powered by BitTorrent files - a typical way of downloading movies - but with an interface that makes it far easier for non-technically-minded people to navigate.

Mark Mulligan, an analyst and co-founder of Midia Consulting, said this should give content creators great cause of concern.

"The next stage of piracy, and one rights holders need to be really worried about, is when the pirates start behaving like the rest of the internet and start making great user experiences."

Image caption Legal services like Netflix have tens of millions of paying users worldwide

Popcorn Time requires the user to download a small program to their computer in order to access the content.

Upon installation, users are warned that viewing films in this way could be illegal in their country.

"Popcorn Time doesn't host any copyrighted content, the app is based in a decentralised model, working with services that already exist and are used daily by millions of people worldwide," the makers, who have remained anonymous but said they were based in Buenos Aires, explained on their website.

"We aren't making any money or accepting donations with the project at the time, as we keep to our original intentions of just focusing Popcorn Time on a technology experiment to bring a simpler way to experience movies in a digital environment."

In a follow-up blog post, the makers criticised the film industry for placing unnecessary restrictions on streaming around the world.

"Take Argentina for example," they wrote.

"Streaming providers seem to believe that There's Something About Mary is a recent movie. That movie would be old enough to vote here."

'Harming livelihoods'

No prominent group representing copyright holders has said publicly that it was taking action, but several have raised concern about Popcorn Time.

"What is clear is that there are people that want to push the boundaries of technology and testing the law out," said Eddy Leviten, director of communications at the UK-based Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact).

"What we would say is that the law is quite clearly defined as to what is copyright infringement and what isn't.

"These people are seeking to avoid paying the content creators, the owners of the content. By doing that they're harming the livelihoods of people who work in the creative industries."

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), told the BBC it was aware of the service but did not wish to comment as it did not discuss potential future litigation.

Analyst Mr Mulligan said the new challenge for content creators, particularly the film industry, was to look again at how it released new titles - and to prioritise the internet audience.

"The main solution for movies would be to treat the likes of Hulu, Netflix, or any movie service, as a tier-one window," he told the BBC.

"It's where your most valuable engaged customers are. Blu-Ray and DVDs are the dying segment."

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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