Use Popcorn Time? Prepare for ISP warning letters

22 May 2014, 21:29   By Neil Hawkins

MOVIE fans in the UK who watch the latest releases via the popular Popcorn Time streaming service could be among the first to receive warning letters under a new system designed to battle copyright infringement.

popcorn and tv
Credit: VasiliyBudarin/

Under the UK's new Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme known as VCAP, agreed earlier this month, ISPs in the UK will send up to four warning letters to copyright infringers identified by rights holders.

popcorn time screenshot

SOURCE: screenshot 22/5/14.

No further action will be taken after the four letters have been sent, though copyright groups are expected to use the system to push for further action like cutting off infringing households, which is provision of the Digital Economy Act.

Many users of Popcorn Time, dubbed the 'Netflix of torrents', are unaware that it uses the BitTorrent P2P service to bring people films and TV Shows without the need to download them first.

This appears to have already caught out some users in Germany who recently received settlement demands for €815 from law firm Waldorf Frommer for allegedly breaching copyright.

BitTorrent leads to warnings

All claimed to have not used BitTorrent but only what they thought were streaming services. The demand letters however, claim they were uploading files using BitTorrent.

How filesharing laws
affect broadband users
Our full guide.
Which sites are blocked? Here.
Do blocks work? Here.

Rather than streaming video like YouTube, users of Popcorn Time are downloading and uploading material when watching, simultaneously broadcasting their IP address that could potentially identify them to anyone watching.

BitTorrent, in particular, risks piquing the interest of copyright holders who are known to use automated software to track people sharing copyrighted files via P2P.

Rights holders collect this publicly available information and, under the new rules, can then pass it to ISPs for them to take action.

Legality: could users really be unaware?

Popcorn Time has gained attention partly by looking very much like legal streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Instant and Now TV.

popcorn time screenshot

SOURCE: screenshot 22/5/14.

Although they inhabit a grey area, however, Popcorn Time can't be accused of not being upfront about it.

"We search for movies uploaded by YTS [a well known torrent network for high quality movies]. Better ask them how they are handling this!" Popcorn Time say.

The Popcorn Time website also carries a disclaimer, front and centre that says:
"Downloading copyrighted material may be illegal in your country. Use at your own risk."

Anyone using Popcorn Time is unlikely to be in any doubt about the legality of watching shows on the service, then.

Where they might be caught out is the method used to deliver the streams. Many people are likely to be unaware that this form of streaming could be used to identify them to any third parties that may also be watching.

Eating data like popcorn

In addition to warning letters, Popcorn Time users might also be surprised to learn that the service is eating up a big chunk of their monthly bandwidth allowance due to the amount of data uploading as well as downloading when watching.

popcorn time mascot

SOURCE: screenshot 22/5/14.

Some ISPs, like Virgin Media, place specific limits on uploads within a set period of time, that could lead to the service being subject to traffic management.

Other ISPs count upload bandwidth as part of your overall bandwidth allowance, meaning Popcorn Time could push users over the limit if used extensively.

Sharing saga

The Popcorn Time story has turned into a saga as dramatic and emotional as the movies they host.

The original Popcorn Time project shutdown earlier in the year with the original developers retiring from the open source project.

Just like all popular things on the internet, a number of Popcorn Time clones quickly emerged and now arguments rage about whether one of the most successful offshoots, time4popcorn is safe to use, and not just on a copyright front.

These accusations stem primarily from time4popcorn's decision to run its version of the app from within an iframe.

This means the main code for the app to run is injected from an external server. The main offshoot of the original Popcorn Time project doesn't work in this way.

While no malicious code has been identified in time4popcorn, detractors point out that it could be easily updated at any time to introduce code that could affect user computers or other devices.

While Popcorn Time brings its users plenty of joy and a seemingly wondrous way to consume the hottest moving pictures, it might end up not only landing UK users with a ticking off from their ISPs but with slowed services or exposure to malicious code.

Which broadband deals are available in your area?

independent comparison

We are independent of all of the products and services we compare.

fair comparison

We order our comparison tables by price or feature and never by referral revenue.

charity donations

We donate at least 5% of our profits to charity, and we aim to be climate positive.

Get insider tips and the latest offers in our newsletter