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'Netflix for Pirates' Proves Content Providers Still Have a Long Way to Go

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Combining BitTorrent with a dead-simple UI, Popcorn Time streams titles you can't find by legal means in glorious 1080p.

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For cinephiles, this is a golden age of digital convenience. With help from YouTube (NASDAQ:GOOG), iTunes (NASDAQ:AAPL), Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), a night's worth of entertainment can be instantly accessed featuring almost any title one could think up.

Unfortunately, "almost" is the operative word.

Despite the fact that the music industry got its act together in the last decade and allowed for simple and immediate access to virtually every album ever created in a streaming or downloadable format, movie studios continue to cling to an antiquated release schedule that keeps in-theater titles -- as well as popular movies released ages ago -- from being easily accessed online. Netflix users know all too well the disappointment of wading through scores of straight-to-video schlock to find the movie they wish to see unavailable on Netflix Instant.

Some choose to grin and bear it, while others -- against the stern lectures from the Motion Pictures Association of America -- turn to BitTorrent to get their fix. But however streamlined peer-to-peer services have become, there are many folks who are more intimidated by shady BitTorrent trackers than dismissive of copyright laws.

Enter Popcorn Time, a desktop app that streams popular films, many of which are still in theaters, from BitTorrent and in glorious HD within a dead-simple interface -- even simpler than Netflix. Available for Windows (NASDAQ:MSFT), Mac, and Linux machines, Popcorn Time can easily find the title you're looking for if a Netflix or iTunes search comes up short.



In an interview with TorrentFreak, software developer Sebastian describes how the service came about.

"As a designer I love the challenge of simplification," he said. "Take something hard for the common user and make it usable. I have a lot of friends who don't understand torrents and I wanted to make it easy and effortless to use torrent technology."

Thus, Popcorn Time was born. But while such an enterprise would seemingly send up millions of skull-and-crossbones flags, Sebastian remains confident -- or deluded, depending on your point of view -- that the service is completely within the confines of the law.

"We don't expect legal issues," he told TorrentFreak. "We don't host anything, and none of the developers makes any money. There are no ads, no premium accounts, and no subscription fees or anything like that. It's an experiment to learn and share."

On paper, he might be correct. However, in the courtroom, the major studios and broadcasters have a way of bending the law in their favor -- be it a piracy case, a matter of over-the-air broadcasting rights, or the merger of the two largest cable providers. (See: Help Us, Aereo! Streaming TV Is Our Only Hope Now.) If Popcorn Time catches on and is proven to be popular, there is no way it will fly under the radar and go uncontested.

But legal or not, Popcorn Time underscores the lumbering dinosaurs that are broadcasters and movie studios. While they kick, bite, and claw against any service that provides a simpler way to access content online, they lose what little, if any, goodwill the public still has toward their practices. Popcorn Time may very well fall with the bang of a judge's gavel, but it surely won't be the end of sites and apps that provide entertainment outside the studio system.

Whether the studios adapt before they die is up to them.

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Can the Big TV Networks Kill Aereo?
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