Popcorn Time, the popular video piracy app, is officially dead—again. Developers behind the once immensely popular torrenting platform announced Tuesday that it had been retired due to a downturn in public interest. A visit to the project’s website reveals what appears to be an illustration of a dead popcorn box, as well as a graph showing declining interest over time. Bloomberg News reports that the project’s developers also sent out emails to press outlets confirming the site’s demise.
This is not the first—nor is it likely the last—time that Popcorn Time will be laid to rest. The (mostly) illegal video torrenting platform was originally launched by a development team in Buenos Aires in March of 2014. The app, which had a layout similar to Netflix and was created as an open-source project, used BitTorrent technology to let users find and stream popular movies, and it worked with most popular operating system families—including iOS, Linux, and Windows.
The prospect of free, torrent-able movies on an easy-to-use interface obviously made the project an instant hit with folks around the world. However, after only about a week—and a massive spike in public interest and positive press reception—Popcorn Time was forced to shut down (potentially as a result of law enforcement action), though admirers of the original immediately reworked its code into various forked iterations, and the project has lived on ever since via different development teams around the world. (This most recently retired version was originally launched in early 2020—just in time for the Covid-19 pandemic, when everybody had nothing better to do than sit around and stream themselves silly.)
Downloading pirated files of copyrighted movies is obviously illegal (streaming them exists in something of a legally gray zone but is still mostly illegal) and, thus, the app’s life has always been a fraught one. The illicit nature of Popcorn Time and the obvious threat the pirating app has posed to the entertainment industry means that it has often been the subject of legal disputes. In 2015, the app inspired a bizarre lawsuit involving 11 unlucky people who had used it to download Adam Sandler’s godawful movie about a shapeshifting shoemaker, The Cobbler. That same year, Popcorn Time also spawned a music industry equivalent—Aurous—which subsequently got sued into oblivion by the Record Industry Association of America. Multiple countries have, at times, banned the web domains associated with the application and, in some cases, people have been arrested and faced criminal charges for merely telling people where to find it on the web.
However, at the end of the day, people still want to see free TV shows and movies. A recent study found that pirated video material gets a whopping 230 billion views a year. And, due to Popcorn Time’s free and open-source code, developers can always take it and reanimate the platform—which, like John Barleycorn, will spring anew in some as-yet-unseen incarnation. So, perhaps it’s best to say RIP, Popcorn Time, until next time…