Popcorn Time will not cause a piracy apocalypse

Monday, March 17, 2014 - 02:09 PM

(Popcorn Time)

For the past week, tech sites have been reporting hysterically on a new app called Popcorn Time, which is being referred to as video piracy's "Napster moment." What it seems the press is missing is that video's Napster moment came and went a long time ago.

Popcorn Time functions like Netflix, except instead of streaming licensed versions of content with complex pay schemas, it simply streams torrents of the video from around the web. This has made content owners understandably nervous. It only lasted a week before the folks behind it shut it down, but the code has ended up on the software collaboration site Github, and it is available for users to install.

After reading about Popcorn Time, I was curious only if it granted me access to some kind of special content I can't find anywhere else. I asked PJ if he would use it, and he said "I don't really need to." And there's a good reason for that. Pirates have no need to download an app and search its limited library for, say, the latest episode of The Walking Dead because they already have the ultimate killer piracy app at their fingertips. Google "Walking Dead Streaming" and you'll be watching the show in seconds without installing anything.

I suppose Popcorn Time could be cataclysmic in that it removes that last, tiny technical barrier when it comes to bittorrent, but with the proliferation of streaming sites, that barrier was basically gone a long time ago. To freak out about Popcorn Time feels to me like saying where cassettes didn't kill the recording industry, CD-Rs will. It's a slight refinement that makes one type of piracy easier where so many were already so easy.

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Comments [2]

Reading this article, I couldn't help but think of an analogy, "If I were an alien race, and I wanted to kill-off the humans, I'd take a flu virus and each year, I'd make it slightly more dangerous and virulent. Each year, the humans would say, 'well, it's not an apocalypse this year. It's only 5% worse than last year'. Like a frog in a pot and slowly increasing its temperature, the frog will say, 'well, it's only a little bit warmer than it was a few minutes ago', and won't see any reason to try to jump out, meanwhile that lack of concern leads it towards an inevitable outcome in the long-term."

I feel much the same way about the increasing ease of piracy. Sure, you can say, 'it's only an incremental change over what we had', but we can see where this is headed. Statements like "Popcorn time will not cause a piracy apocalypse" are a good way to lull everyone into complacency, because, while it's true, it's also missing the point that incremental changes over time can be very bad.

Mar. 21 2014 01:43 PM
Dan from Melbourne, Australia

Not so sure. Technical barriers seem tiny to those of us who don't think twice about installing a Bittorrent client, but it only takes one look at the success of the Apple App Store (to choose one of many possible examples) to see that cutting down the number of clicks, and removing any requirement to shuffle files around manually, is a huge deal for lots of people. It always seemed astonishingly simple for people to install apps on a desktop computer or an older mobile device -- download a file, click to install -- but hidden within that apparent simplicity is the requirement to approve a download, and then navigate the folder hierarchy to find the download, processes which a large class of non-computer-literate people could still easily be confused by. Reduce that to one click, and all of a sudden you have a mobile computing revolution driven by an interface layer which requires zero knowledge or setup or training. Watching pirated content or your TV at home is still, at this time, something that's only available to people with the ability to do things like download files and install software. Yes, you can stream stuff through your browser, but that's finicky to navigate every time unless you're going to watch it sitting in front of your computer, which most non-geeky folks are still reticent about doing. If you could set up something like Popcorn Time on a Smart TV, navigable by remote on a 10-foot interface, I think it would genuinely open up piracy to the masses in the same way that the iPhone opened up software installation and music downloads to the masses.

Mar. 17 2014 06:09 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. You can subscribe to our podcast here. You can follow our blog here. We’re also on Twitter, and we play Team Fortress 2 more or less constantly, so find us there if you like to communicate via computer games from six years ago.

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