Tag Archives: popcorn time

BREIN Seeks to Define Streaming Piracy Crime in EU Court

Although it seems obvious to those of us with any sense of respect for intellectual property, the question as to whether viewing pirated content from a streaming site is illegal remains a gray area around the world.

That’s certainly true in the European Union (EU), where the region’s Court of Justice could soon rule on the legality of streaming unlicensed video content.

The court’s consideration arises thanks to the hard work of BREIN, a Dutch anti-piracy organization with a strong history of standing up for creative rights. Earlier this year they issued a dozen injunctions against some 128 sites engaged in copyright infringement and successfully took down a number of them.

Now, on the back of a case in the Dutch court system that was also brought to trial by BREIN, the very definition of piracy in the region could be redefined.

The issue arises because Europe has a gray area in its definition of copyright infringement, which holds that any unlicensed content held on a temporary basis does not breach intellectual property rights. In a world of digital downloads, which are clearly intended to remain on a hard drive for some time, this gap was not so important. As bandwidth increases around the world and streaming becomes the primary way we consume videos and music online, however, it quickly becomes a crucial definition to clear up.

The case is intriguing not just because it highlights a question that seems like simple common sense to most creators (yes, if someone takes my registered work without compensating me, it violates my rights). It’s also interesting as it stems from a legal challenge BREIN raised against not a piracy site or app, but manufacturers of hardware. The equipment in question comes pre-loaded with software that makes it easy to access unlicensed content with just a few clicks. Worse yet, it actively promotes this fact in order to sell more units.

Not unlike the successful action against VPN providers in New Zealand earlier this year, it appears that BREIN has a sound basis for its complaint against the defendants.  

In both cases, the ability to access copyrighted content for free is used as a key selling point for the hardware. This goes beyond simply being an intermediary that facilitates copyright infringement which is bad enough, and takes us into the realm of actively promoting and profiting from piracy. It is arguably the lowest form of content theft because, as seen in the case of Megaupload and its owners, led by Kim Dotcom, those behind the piracy promotion typically make a lot of money without ever compensating the creative talent that fuels their business model.

Not content to just address key anti-piracy issues with the EU’s highest legal authority, BREIN is also considering legal action against individual content thieves using Popcorn Time, piracy’s latest poster child platform. While going after the larger intermediaries who make piracy possible is typically a more effective approach, the threat posed by Popcorn Time could be such that individual law suits are explored to deter would-be pirates. A spokesperson for BREIN said as much when the possibility was raised, and this type of action is not without precedent in other parts of Europe.

Given the proliferation of affordable streaming services, it might seem unbelievable that we still face the problem of growing piracy in 2015. Unfortunately, there are still those who believe that simply getting online entitles them to take anything they want without paying for it. For that reason, the fight against piracy has to continue at all levels, and without organizations like BREIN, it would be a lot harder to steer consumers towards legal streaming channels.

Fleeing Authorities, Piracy’s Latest Poster Child Bounces Around the World

You may remember Popcorn Time, the initially innocent-looking app that gained attention (then notoriety) last year when the headlines labeled it “Netflix for Pirates.”

Although that early version proved short-lived thanks to prompt action from rights holders, the site morphed into several other unreliable incarnations in the months that followed, sparking concerns about malicious code and a bizarre turf war between different groups of developers.

After a winter break from the media spotlight, aside from a frank admission from Netflix itself that such piracy sites provide significant competition to its paid service,  Popcorn Time appears to be resurfacing in a traditional manner: finding new countries from which to operate, at least until the nearest available authorities catch up with its operators.

Currently that means Europe, specifically Sweden, which is something of an odd choice given the recent spate of raids on piracy server locations in that country. It’s also strange as the service has been removed on another occasion by EURid, the European Registry of Internet Domain Names, which should really send Popcorn Time’s operators running for further flung lands than Scandinavia.

If it followed the path of The Pirate Bay, for example, there would be stops at domain registrars in exotic locations like the Caribbean and South America. That course eventually led to the site being shut down anyway and its owners serving jail time, so perhaps nowhere in the world can truly be labeled a “safe harbor.” That, at least, is something for which rights holders can be grateful.

Popcorn Time Google results

For anyone who can recall the name of the service, Google makes it easy to put pirates back in business.

As usual, Google has a role to play in curbing this piracy. Unfortunately, and also as usual, it seems that the search giant will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to act against a site that flagrantly infringes the copyright of creators big and small.

As the search results to the right show, Google currently puts Popcorn Time at the very top of its search results, helping curious viewers to hurdle one of the barriers to entry. With the more common dot com domain removed, would-be pirates at least have to find a working address for the site before they can begin ripping off titles. Google solves that problem all too easily, and rumors that the app will also be available for download through the official Google Play store will only make the company look worse.

Somewhat amusingly, in that same Wired interview with the anonymous operator of Popcorn Time’s latest incarnation, a different parallel is drawn with the world’s largest search engine. The source, identified only by the name of the site’s mascot, makes the direct comparison between Google and his own service, saying:

“We’re like Google, scraping for new content all over the internet.”

–‘Pochoclin’ of Popcorn Time

While the analogy has some technical basis, it would be harsh to lump Google into the same piracy bag as Popcorn Time, which positions itself to directly undercut legitimate streaming services. Google certainly has its fair share of work – and then some – to do in the fight against piracy, but its business is search advertising, not actively searching for and promoting pirated content.

But even with that indirect distinction, the fact that Google so frequently presents piracy sites, and by doing so legitimizes them, when users perform a search is enough to put the company on the wrong side of the fight. Between YouTube, Android, and its eponymous search engine, it could be argued that Google does as much to facilitate piracy as it does to curb it.

However much running around the world authorities have to do to pursue and prohibit the likes of Popcorn Time, it’s important to remember we also have some major intellectual property battles to fight right here on home soil.