Popcorn Time and Copyright Infringement

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One day, I’ll write a full-length discussion of intellectual property, including copyright. I’m sure that when I do, I’ll devote some ink to Popcorn Time, a Windows, Mac, and Linux application that makes pirating movies via BitTorrent easy enough for casual users.

For now, I’m going to touch on it from the following perspective: movie producers have a right to control their intellectual property, up to and including doing what someone might consider really stupid things with it that limit its exposure and revenues. You don’t have to agree with Hollywoods practices in distributing its property, but you should respect their right to do so however they please.

The makers of Popcorn Time obviously disagree, as evidenced by the following from Torrentfreak:

All the people who work on the project are big movie fans themselves, and most have Netflix accounts. Sebastian believes that going to the cinema is the best way to experience a movie, but if people who want to enjoy [sic] a recent film at home they should be able to do so. This is often not the case, and that’s where Popcorn Time comes in. [Emphasis added.]

Now, I’ve made an assertion about copyright in my preceding paragraph, that Hollywood has a right to control the distribution of their intellectual property. Here, Sebastion makes a counter-argument, that “people should be able to enjoy a recent film at home.” I submit that this counter-argument has no legal or moral justification; it’s just an assertion made in a vacuum based on personal desires that have no basis in reality. The mere fact that I might “want to” enjoy a recent movie at home doesn’t grant me the right to do so, any more than my desire to drive a new BMW grants me the right to borrow someone else’s car for a quick joyride. Even if I return the car in perfect shape, and stick $50 on the dash for gas and wear and tear, I still have no right whatsoever to utilize someone’s property without their consent.

These facts are lost on those who oppose intellectual property, and I’m disturbed to see a tool like Popcorn Time proliferate. It makes pirating trivially easy, it’s very likely to confuse someone who doesn’t understand the underlying technology and who may not be aware that they’re pirating movies, and the inclusion of a VPN service to anonymize the activity is essentially contributing to the commission of a crime (whether you or not agree with copyright, infringing on it remains against the law). The warning that apparently pops up that downloading the content may not be legal in all geographies mitigates neither the pirating nor the application itself.

As I said, I’ll write a longer post one day presenting my entire argument, but I want to touch on this particular application because it’s worth discussing. This will be a controversial post for some, I’m sure, and if you feel strongly one way or another please feel free to sound off below.

Image via Popcorn Time.

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