You might have heard about Popcorn Time, an app that lets you download and watch movies free. Free movie downloads? It sounds too good to be true. How does that work? Is it legal? Is it ethical? And how does it compare to movie streaming services like Google Play or Netflix? Grab some popcorn, pull up a chair, and read on to learn all about it.
What is Popcorn Time?
Popcorn Time is a BitTorrent client with an integrated media player. What that means, is that it’s a piece of software that allows peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing of media files. In addition, users can use the software to view those files on their devices. Peer-to-peer means that users post media files, like movies, and other users can download those files and watch them with Popcorn Time. Many consider Popcorn Time a free alternative to subscription-based video streaming services such as Netflix.
Popcorn Time was developed by a group of people in Argentina as an antidote to what they perceived was a flawed system of streaming services there. Its ease of use quickly made it popular. There were versions for Linux, macOS, Windows, and Android. On top of that, it was free, open source, and had a larger available library than Netflix.
But legal troubles plagued Popcorn Time. First, several governments blocked access to the site, citing copyright violations. Then lawsuits ensued. Then, in 2014, developers took down the official website and its GitHub repository. A year later, different user groups resurrected the software. The current version of Popcorn Time is available at this website, but take caution as it may be illegal to use where you are. Below, we have the best ways to stream free, if Popcorn Time is illegal where you are.
How Does it Work?
Popcorn Time uses the BitTorrent protocol. The BitTorrent protocol allows users to join a group of hosts who upload to and download from each other simultaneously. This allows the files to transfer effectively using lower bandwidth, and makes file transfer faster than it would have been, had users tried to download from a single server. The diagram below illustrates the idea of distributed computing that makes software like Popcorn Time work.
How Can Movie Downloads be Free? Is that Legal?
That depends on where you live. The BitTorrent protocol itself is perfectly legal. Many users employ it to transfer their own content, for example, to other users. Because the technology makes it easy to share other people’s copyrighted material, though, the potential to violate copyright laws with a BitTorrent client is always there. And downloading free movies can get you into trouble.
Several governments have blocked high profile BitTorrent sites like The Pirate Bay and Supernova because users violated copyright laws in those countries. In addition, sites like Supernova, TorrentSpy and yes, Popcorn Time, have received lawsuits from the MPAA over shared movies. Many of these lawsuits resulted in the sharing site shutting down, or worse. Two of The Pirate Bay’s founders even received prison sentences in their home country of Sweden for copyright violations.
Yes, you can get in trouble too
And it’s not just companies that find themselves in hot water. In the United States, more than 200,000 individuals have been sued since 2010 for sharing copyrighted material using the BitTorrent protocol. And fines can range from $2,500 to $150,000 — that’s a lot more than a year of your favorite streaming service.
The upshot is if you want to torrent, check the rules of your country very carefully. Some countries, like Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, and the Netherlands, have permissive laws about downloading copyrighted works of art. Others, like the United States and the United Kingdom, are much stricter. In addition, read the fine print of your user agreement with your Internet Service Provider. Some ISPs frown on torrenting and may come after you themselves. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and on the side of the law.
The BitTorrent protocol is not anonymous and is not necessarily secure. The tracker function within the software allows interested parties like law enforcement to obtain the IP addresses of current and past users. This means that users are vulnerable to lawsuits, legal prosecution, and cyberattack. So if you want to share something you created with other peer users, that’s great. But if you’re thinking about sharing someone else’s copyrighted creation, think again.
And if you think sharing artists’ copyrighted work is a victimless crime, try telling that to an artist. The Recording Industry Association of America has found that pirating music has cost over 71,000 jobs in the music industry. Book piracy causes authors to lose sales, which is not only lost money but may also cause their publishers to drop authors’ hard-won contracts. The average author’s earnings dropped by nearly $16,000 between 2009 and 2015 due to piracy. As for movies, experts estimate that pirating causes the film industry to lose around $750 million per year.
That’s a lot of income and a lot of jobs. Some may argue that artists should be happy people are interested enough in their work to steal it. But the fact is, every sale an artist loses due to piracy puts that artist one step closer to not being able to afford to continue making art. So think it over.
So, Is There a Way to Legally Watch Movies Free?
We’re so glad you asked that! In fact, there are several.
There are a number of free, easy to use, and completely legal download services where you can watch free movies. How are they legal? Well, some services are owned by movie distribution companies that make their films available to users. Others provide movies that are in the public domain. And some are advertising supported. Have a look.
Popcornflix is owned by Screen Media Ventures, a film distribution company. They have a library of over 1,500 full-length feature films — that’s a lot of movies. And they make it available to users at no charge. You can enjoy new films and classics, in all the popular genres, and all for free.
Public Domain Torrents
Public Domain Torrents allows you to download movies that are, you guessed it, copyright free and in the public domain. Choose from a number of genres, including action and adventure, comedy, science fiction, and more. This is a great place to find classics, but you’ll find some more recent movies as well.
Free streaming services
Some people prefer downloading to streaming because sometimes, streaming can glitch. But there are a number of high-quality streaming services that are not only free but address the glitching problem as well. You may have to put up with some advertising from time to time, but it’s a small price to pay for free, legal, high-quality content.
Sony Pictures owns Crackle.com, which means two things. First, the content is fresh. There’s a continuous flow of new TV, movies, and more, from a major studio. Second, since Sony owns the content, it’s perfectly legal for them to give it to users for free. Their free app works with the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android phones and tablets, BlackBerry phone, Nook tablet, Kindle Fire tablet, and the Windows Phone. It’s easy to get started, so why not get started today?
If you like foreign films and anime, you’ll love Viewster. They have other content, too, of course. Some of it you will have heard of, and other content you might not have heard about. It’s a great place to discover something new. And it’s legal! Viewster pays a licensing fee for each of its films, which allows them to provide the films to you for free.
Cut, and That’s a Wrap
Everyone loves free movies. What’s not to like? And today, you have so many ways to get them. Some, like torrenting with tools like Popcorn Time, may or may not be legal in your area. If you’re going to go that route, make sure you know the risks and the rules. And make sure you’re prepared to deal with the possible consequences. If you’d rather skip the risk, then lucky you. There are so many ways to get your hands on free, legal, high-quality movies, videos, and TV shows — without the risk of lawsuits or legal prosecution.
So fire up your popcorn popper, put your feet up, and get ready to find your next favorite movie — for free.