In 2014, the application known as Popcorn Time burst onto the scene to transform the BitTorrent landscape.
Instead of accessing torrent files from indexing platforms such as The Pirate Bay to download them in a comparatively boring regular client, users were given a beautiful, Netflix-style, all-in-one solution.
Very quickly, Popcorn Time became a smash-hit sensation but it also attracted movie and TV show companies determined to shut it down. While some success was booked on this front, Popcorn Time’s open-source nature meant that it could be replicated by enthusiasts, such as those who ultimately ended up operating from PopcornTime.sh.
While there are other variants, Reddit’s /r/popcorntime considers the .sh domain as offering the ‘official’ version of PopcornTime and the site was previously linked from the official Github repository. As the image below shows, the website and associated services attached to the app via the .sh domain were working just fine on November 3, 2019.
The situation today, however, is very much different. PopcornTime.sh and all the sub-domains which allow its app to work as intended have been rendered inaccessible.
According to WHOIS data, late on Monday the domain was updated. It isn’t due to expire for another year but its domain status is currently listed as “clientHold”, which can signal bad news.
‘ClientHold’ status is set by the domain registrar, 101domain.com in this case, and informs the registry not to activate the DNS for PopcornTime.sh. As a result, the website in question has been rendered inaccessible.
“This status code tells your domain’s registry to not activate your domain in the DNS and as a consequence, it will not resolve,” ICANN’s official advice reads. “It is an uncommon status that is usually enacted during legal disputes, non-payment, or when your domain is subject to deletion.”
We have been unable to officially confirm why PopcornTime.sh has been given this treatment but in the past, clientHold status has proven problematic for domains and has sometimes signaled legal issues. Information received earlier today adds at least some weight to that theory.
This afternoon we received an email from the folks at InternetProtocol.co who, citing anonymous police sources, claim that the site’s operator may (and that’s a pretty big ‘may’) have been arrested in Tunisia.
The publication also posted an image that supposedly shows items confiscated as evidence as part of a “raid” carried out in “cooperation with some international copyright organization.”
Unable to confirm the allegations from any other source and given its worldwide position on anti-piracy enforcement, TorrentFreak contacted the Alliance For Creativity and Entertainment seeking confirmation or indeed denial that it was involved in this alleged and as-yet unconfirmed action.
We were told by their spokesperson that at this point in time, he wasn’t able to provide us with any information.
Although the moderators of the official PopcornTime sub on Reddit claim to have no direct connection with the software distributed and maintained from the .sh domain, TorrentFreak requested comments from all of them. At the time of publication, however, we were yet to hear back.
Whether the domain issue will be solved in time is unclear but that seems largely reliant on whether the information about a supposed arrest in North Africa holds up as credible.
Similar action in that region is extremely rare, perhaps unheard of as far as popular applications go, so there will be a waiting game for the full picture to emerge, if it ever does. Last year, PopcornTime.sh was targeted by movie companies seeking the identity of its operator but what ultimately became of that remains unclear.