After one and a half decades of mainstream file-sharing, millions of people now have little trouble finding and consuming unauthorized content online.
For many the process is no more difficult than browsing the web but due to its technical nature the majority still find it bewildering. Then along came Popcorn Time, software that turned viewing movies into child’s play for anyone with a PC, tablet or phone.
But the idea behind Popcorn Time isn’t new. Advanced users of the popular Kodi software (previously known as XBMC) have been enjoying a super-charged Popcorn Time rival for many years. However, that largely requires the mastering of an often confusing third-party addon system. Inevitably, of course, that became streamlined too.
Just as Popcorn Time works out of the box, custom installations of Kodi do too. These installers make the previously complex setup process a breeze and in doing so introduce a whole new audience of novices to piracy, just like Popcorn Time has.
Of course, this simplicity hasn’t gone unnoticed by anti-piracy outfits. Legal action against Popcorn Time was common in 2014 and continued in 2015. No surprise then that those peddling ‘pirate’ Kodi variants (which have nothing to do with the team behind the project) are now getting more attention.
The problem is availability and ease of use. Sold pre-configured in Android set-top box form on both eBay and Amazon, the devices are essentially a one-stop shop for not only pirate movies and TV shows, but also a streaming hub for live sports and PPV. Anyone can have one of these devices delivered next day and learn how to use it in under an hour. Oh, and they run Popcorn Time too. And Showbox.
As a result, piracy has never been easier and anti-piracy groups are scrambling to stem the tide. Just last week a seller of ‘pirate’ Android boxes was raided by police in the UK and just days ago Amazon overreacted by banning the entirely legal Kodi software itself, presumably after a copyright holder complaint.
Other attacks have been more targeted. Last year the Federation Against Copyright Theft filed a complaint against a popular live sports plugin for Kodi known as Sports Devil. But according to FACT, this was just the beginning of their crackdown on these piracy platforms.
“Those engaged in piracy have always been quick to take advantage of technological advances to create new methods to profit from delivering stolen content to a wider audience. The proliferation of IPTV and set-top boxes which can stream content is no exception,” the anti-piracy group told TF.
“We are working with our members and partners in law enforcement on addressing these threats and significant measures are being taken by all parties, including online market places, to address the availability of these devices, as well as the apps and add ons that facilitate illegal streams, and bring those responsible to account.”
The ‘custom Kodi’ epidemic hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Netherlands either. Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN is currently engaged in legal action against Filmspeler.nl, a seller of “fully loaded” (a euphemism for “piracy configured”) Android boxes.
In fact, BREIN is so serious about ending the problem that the case is being sent to the European Court of Justice so that an opinion can be gained on whether streaming from illegal sources represents a breach of EU law. If BREIN wins it won’t end the problem, but it will draw a line in the sand in terms of how such products can be advertised and sold.
“We will always look at any system that is aimed at providing access to copyrighted content without consent of the right holders and by doing so is causing damage to the earning potential of right holders and licensed platforms,” BREIN chief Tim Kuik told TorrentFreak.
Finally, since these devices are increasingly being targeted at the non-tech savvy, is it possible that buyers are naive to the point that they don’t appreciate their dubious legal standing? Kuik thinks not.
“We see that people using such systems tend to be aware they are getting access to unauthorized content even if they don’t know how it works technically,” the BREIN chief concludes.
The big question now is what comes next, and what will be the industry’s response? That will become clear in the months and years to come but rest assured, the easier piracy becomes, the more vigorous the response will be.