Popcorn Time, the 'Netflix for piracy,' is back just in time

Popcorn Time — the notorious streaming piracy service that has come and gone over the years — is once again back, and the timing couldn't be better. Millions of people are hunkered down at home and participating in social distancing to curb the spread of coronavirus, and plenty of them are without a consistent source of income as unemployment appears on the verge of skyrocketing. What better time for an on-demand movie streaming service to make its return?

The latest iteration of Popcorn Time was announced via tweet by the official Twitter account for the platform — though, given the many iterations of the service that have cropped up over the years, one would be forgiven for being unclear on who exactly is in charge of this thing. As it has since its initial launch in 2014, Popcorn Time is once again promising users the ability to instantly stream high-quality versions of popular movies. That includes new releases, films that are still in theaters like Sonic the Hedgehog and 1917, and flicks that haven't made their way to paid streaming services yet or are perhaps locked behind the paywall of a single service that you don't have access to.

Version 4.0 of Popcorn Time works similarly to prior installments of the app. Known as the “Netflix for piracy,” it is structured much like a piracy-laden version of the popular streaming service: movies are laid out in columns or you can search for a title of your choice and the app will track it down. Once you find the film you want, Popcorn Time essentially streamlines the piracy process. No need to get a torrent client and wait for the film to download from a collection of peers who are hosting the file — instead, Popcorn Time streams the film for you, giving a viewing experience similar to what you'd find on any other on-demand video platform. The primary difference, of course, is that you aren't paying for it and everything you watch is hosted illegally. But, you know, other than that it's basically just Netflix.

This version of Popcorn Time comes with a considerable amount of additional security precautions built-in, as opposed to some more cavalier efforts in the past. The latest installment of the app constantly alerts users that their activity can be monitored by their internet service provider unless they use a virtual private network (VPN) to mask their behaviors. A red lock flashes the entire time the app is open, begging users to create an account for VPN.ht. Likewise, when a user tries to watch a film, they will be warned that their activity will be logged unless they use a VPN — going so far as to show their location and ISP based on the user's IP address. Given that Popcorn Time has been taken down time and time again and gone through legal battles — including lawsuits against individual users — and police raids that may have required the service to hand over user information, it's no surprise that the makers of the platform are exercising an abundance of caution this time around.

As with anything piracy-related, you canexpect Popcorn Time to receive a considerable amount of scrutiny and legal challenges. There's a reasonthe app has not stuck around for very long in the past — movie studios have not taken kindly to their content being available on-demand while they don't see a single cent from it. Given that movie studios are making some of their films that would otherwise be in theaters right now available online to stream, it seems likely they'll want to nip Popcorn Time in the bud as quickly as possible.