The Motion Picture Association of America and its members scored a win this week when the UK’s High Court ordered five of the country’s biggest ISPs block four Popcorn Time websites hosting the app. Although it's likely that the ban will be largely ineffective, the decision is still considered a landmark ruling as the websites themselves don't directly link to infringing content.
The targeted websites include popcorntime.io, flixtor.me, popcorn-time.se, and isoplex.isohunt.to. In his order, which also demands blocks on several direct streaming sites, Justice Colin Birss wrote "It is manifest that the Popcorn Time application is used in order to watch pirated content on the internet and indeed it is also manifest that that is its purpose. No-one really uses Popcorn Time in order to watch lawfully available content."
Other sites such as The Pirate Bay have been blocked by courts in the UK for a while now, but are still accessible using proxies and VPNs. It has been argued that these blocks actually draw more people to the service thanks to the widespread coverage they receive in mainstream media.
In the case of Popcorn Time, fighting piracy through court orders might prove to be a more complex job than it sounds. Not only it’s likely that other websites will quickly spring to host the video streaming app, but the open source project has several different forks and is backed by multiple anonymous developers around the world. Moreover, because the app itself works using P2P protocols and doesn't rely on a central server, those already using Popcorn Time shouldn't experience any issues. The block merely affects new downloads.
Popcorn Time has been a thorn on the side of the film and TV industry for over a year now. Although the original developers took the client down in March 2014, facing mounting pressure from the MPAA, development has picked up after the code was made available as open source.
Adoption numbers are hard to come by but just last month Wired reported that Popcorn-Time.se already has “millions of users” (4 million as of November 2014) and is growing at a rate of 100,000 downloads per day.
The most current version offers a free, built-in VPN service to obscure user’s identities when using the service, and is supported on all major platforms -- including iOS through a workaround that doesn’t require jailbreaking.