I have a couple legal copies of Frozen in my home… and I don’t even have a daughter. But this morning, Time magazine (basically stealing a story reported by TorrentFreak) featured a web-based program (not an “app” in the traditional sense, as it is not available on wireless platforms via Apple, Google or whomever) called Popcorn Time. I won’t link to it, but it isn’t hard to find. Still, I feel compelled to write about it, as it is an open-source, free program that simplifies the theft of filmed content for pretty much anyone.
And within 5 minutes of reading about this thing, via Time magazine, was illegally watching Frozen in perfect HD form.
The content… what is and isn’t there… is interesting. According to the TorrentFreak story, the feed to Popcorn Time is from a site called YTS and searching that site, it seems that the only 2014 movies are direct-to-dvd releases. In fact, it appears that everything there is already on DVD or about to go onto DVD. The post-theatrical market is the one being attacked in this case, not really theatrical.
American Hustle won’t be released on DVD until next week and it is available. But all the December movies from major studios that are torrents streaming on the website (give or take a week) are movies already out on DVD. No Wolf, no Philomena, no Her, amongst Oscar nominees. No Hobbit 2, no Walter Mitty, no Anchorman 2, no Lone Survivor, etc.
A little research turned up that the top source of early releases are leaks within DVD production houses, so the films available, it seems, are those within a few weeks of – or in – DVD release. Did the interest in films that were videotaped off movie theater screens, or “cams,” end? Did tracking mechanisms on theatrical prints end the practice?
Seeking answers, I put in a call to CreativeFuture, the new coalition of content-creating and distribution companies that has been tasked with finding solutions to piracy for the film/tv industry moving forward. The organization confirmed that films videotaped in movie theaters are still out there and an issue, but that the piracy universe is now dominated by post-theatrical theft. In other words, pristine quality, hi-def streaming that takes dollars out of DVD/Blu-ray sales & rentals, but also devalues ongoing deals with pay-TV, Netflix, and other ongoing post-theatrical revenue opportunities.
There is a notion that Popcorn Time, created by “Sebastian, a designer from Buenos Aires, Argentina” is only offering the highest quality torrents so that they can equate themselves with Netflix… a comparison that is made in every media story I have seen. In other words, even though the site is now free and claims that it always will be free and without advertising, they are behaving like an organization staking out a place at the table. According to the Digital Citizens Alliance, “content theft websites” took in $227 million in advertising last year. There’s a lot of money to be made on selling what other companies paid millions to create.
Is Popcorn Time the Napster of movies? Is this the beginning of the end for copyright respect?
I don’t think so. And anyone who has read me much knows that I believe the industry will move to a subscription-based, everything/everywhere/on-demand future within the next decade. I don’t see another way that it all works. Fifteen hundred dollars a year or so for access to pretty much everything in post-theatrical. Times 100 million households. That’s $150 billion a year in revenue, before theatrical, specialty variations at a price, and other ancillaries. How it gets spread around is the question that slows the whole evolution down.
But until that happens, there will be theft. Technology, slow lawmaking, international apathy, and human nature guarantee it.
It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make people who do it any less guilty of taking money out of the pockets not just of corporations they don’t care about, but working people they should care about. But we need to be conscious of reality on every side of this, not just whatever side best serves our personal interests.