For more than seven years, Popcorn Time has been a thorn in the side of movie studios large and small.
The ‘Netflix for Pirates’ offers an easy-to-use application that opens the door to a library of thousands of streamable movies and TV shows.
The Motion Picture Association (MPA) recognized this threat early on and pressured the original developers to throw in the towel. That worked, but it came too late as the open-source project was swiftly revived by others.
Popcorn Time lived on through many project forks, including PopcornTime.app, which carried on from where the original developers stopped. However, the fork’s developers haven’t been spared from legal pressure.
Last year, Hawaiian anti-piracy attorney Kerry Culpepper registered the “Popcorn Time’ trademark, which he used to get Popcorn Time’s Twitter account suspended. Around the same time, Github removed the Popcorn Time repository following a complaint from the MPA, a decision that was later reversed.
Movie Companies Sue Popcorn Time
A few months ago, a group of independent movie companies, including the makers of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and “London Has Fallen,” increased the pressure. The filmmakers sued the anonymous PopcornTime.app operator, together with the VPN service VPN.ht.
According to a recent court filing, VPN.ht and the filmmakers are close to signing a settlement agreement. However, the same can’t be said for the anonymous “Popcorn Time” operator, who failed to respond in court.
Soon after the lawsuit was filed, the official PopcornTime.app site disappeared. The official Reddit community also went private, but not before one of the moderators posted a message, pointing people to popcorn-ru.tk/build/, which remains online today.
Millions in Damages
The movie companies kept a close eye on these developments and remain determined to shut the fork down once and for all. Without a formal response from the developers, they are now asking the court to issue a default judgment, awarding millions of dollars for various copyright and trademark violations.
The list of demands is long. Among other things, the filmmakers demand the maximum statutory copyright infringement damages for 21 movie titles. This adds up to a healthy $3,150,000.
That’s not all, Popcorn Time trademark owner 42 Ventures joined the lawsuit as well. The company, which lists lawyer Kerry Culpepper as its director, demands $2 million in damages for trademark infringement.
The requested damages amount is sufficient to bankrupt most people. However, the default judgment also comes with a request for an injunction, which could potentially have much broader consequences.
Site Blocking and More
The proposed injunction would require ISPs to block access to several Popcorn Time domain names, including popcorn-ru.tk. Thus far, no federal court has issued such a blocking order in a piracy case, but the filmmakers argue that this is an option under the DMCA.
Specifically, Section 512 of the DMCA allows for an order that required Internet providers “to block access, to a specific, identified, online location outside the United States.”
The movie companies believe that such a blocking order is warranted in this case. In their proposed order, which has yet to be approved by the court, they use the following terminology:
It is ORDERED that, within 60 days receipt of this order, all Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) subject to personal jurisdiction of the United States use their best technical efforts to BLOCK access on their servers or servers under their control to the following Target Domain Names at which Defendant’s movie piracy app Popcorn Time is distributed: http://popcorn-ru.tk; https://popcorn-time.tw/; and https://popcorntime-online.ch/.
The targeted ISPs, which could include Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, can use a variety of blocking options, according to the rightsholders. This includes blocking domain names and IP-addresses.
The requested injunction doesn’t stop there. The movie companies also want third-party service providers such as Cloudflare and Google to stop people from accessing Popcorn Time domains. This includes the removal of all search engine results.
In addition, the rightsholders seek an order that requires the developer platform GitHub to take the Popcorn Time repository and various related accounts offline.
As mentioned before, these requests are made as part of a motion for a default judgment. This means that the defendant is not represented in court, which makes it more likely that the court will approve the request.
Unavoidable Blocking Battle?
Given what is at stake here, however, it’s certainly possible that – if the order is granted – some of the third-party intermediaries will object. After all, some of these requests are quite novel.
The movie studios’ site-blocking request is not entirely new. Over the past weeks, the same companies have listed similar demands in lawsuits against Internet providers such as Grande Communications, RCN, and WOW!.
All in all, it seems likely that the site-blocking issue will be properly tested in U.S. courts in the near future.
A copy of the motion for a default judgment, submitted at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, is available here (pdf)