Five years ago Popcorn Time took the Internet by storm as the next major piracy trend.
The software amassed millions of users by offering BitTorrent-powered streaming in an easy-to-use Netflix-style interface.
While the original developers shut down their project after a few months following pressure from Hollywood, others forked the application and took over. Several of these forks were shut down as well, but some remained.
Popcorn-Time.to, originally operating from Popcorn-Time.se, is one of the longest standing forks. The application has been around sine 2014 and is still operational today. Over the years it continued development and even launched its own torrent tracker.
With the major Hollywood studios switching their enforcement efforts to pirate streaming boxes, Popcorn Time appeared to be out the spotlight, but it remained on the radar of a group of smaller film companies.
Venice PI, Millennium Funding, and Bodyguard Productions, which own the rights to prominent film titles such as “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” “London Has Fallen,” and “Once Upon a Time in Venice” are working hard to shut down the site through a federal court in Hawaii.
The case in question was originally filed over a year ago, but in an amended complaint filed a few days ago, the movie companies now identify the alleged mastermind behind the Popcorn Time fork.
The filmmakers believe that Ukranian resident Stanislav Amelychyts is behind the operation. They obtained this name through a former hosting provider, BlackHOST, which served the Popcorn-Time.to website last year.
“Plaintiffs bring this action to stop the massive piracy of their motion pictures brought on by the BitTorrent protocol software application Popcorn Time,” the movie companies write in their complaint.
“Defendant STANISLAV AMELYCHYTS distributes copies of Popcorn time and promotes it for the infringing purpose of ‘watch torrent movies instantly’, including Plaintiffs’ copyright protected Works, via various distribution channels.”
The defendant in question is seen as responsible for pretty much the entire operation, including copies of the software that were distributed through the Google Play store and the uptodown.com website. On the latter site, Popcorn Time was also advertised as a ‘pirate’ tool.
“Here, once again Defendant makes no secret of Popcorn Time’s illegitimate purpose – infringing Copyright protected content by stating ‘Popcorn Time is an app that enables you to watch tons of streaming movies – from classics to new releases…’,” the movie companies write.
Uptodown.com proved to be a pretty popular source too, as the movie companies found out that the Windows and Android versions were downloaded more than 4 million and 12 million times respectively.
What’s interesting about the lawsuit is that it originally started as a case against several anonymous BitTorrent pirates. All but one have been dismissed now. The remaining ‘user’ is Hawaiian resident Clinton Bovee, who is accused of using Popcorn Time and downloading several movies without permission.
The movie companies accuse Bovee of direct copyright infringement and the Ukranian mastermind behind Popcorn Time of contributory copyright infringement.
Through the lawsuit they demand damages, which can go up to $150,000 per pirated film. In addition, the companies request an injunction to shut down Popcorn-Time.to and have the domain transferred to an account under their control.
At the time of writing the court has yet to rule on the request.
While the allegations against Popcorn Time are quite detailed, the only information linking it to the Ukranian defendant comes from hosting company BlackHOST. This could be accurate, but since ‘pirate’ operations rely on fake account info at times, it’s not foolproof.
The Popcorn-Time.to website remains operational at the time of writing. TorrentFreak reached out to the Popcorn Time team for a comment on the allegations, but we haven’t heard back yet.
A copy of the complaint referenced in this article is available here (pdf)