Users of the popular "Netflix for Pirates" app Popcorn Time should bear in mind that they can be traced and potentially threatened by copyright holders, as a crackdown in three different countries is now showing.
Popcorn Time is an app that streams pirated movies directly from the peer-to-peer networks where other users are sharing the files for people to download. However, unlike torrenting, where the entire file is downloaded to the user's computer, with Popcorn Time the user is simply watching a file being streamed from somewhere else on the internet.
The solution is not only much easier to access than torrenting, but it gives people the illusion that they are less likely to be caught as they are not actually downloading any physical files.
In Norway, the Rettighetsalliansen Norge (Rights Alliance) told the state-owned broadcaster NRK on 24 August that it now has a database of information on 75,000 users who are suspected of using the service.
"We are sitting today with a record of some users of [Popcorn Time] in Norway," said Willy Johansen, of Rettighetsalliansen Norge. "These are records we can lawfully use, and it could be that someone gets a little surprise in the mail in the form of a letter. It's probable that something will happen in the fall."
Johansen has not specified what the letter will contain, but it is likely to be a threat or warning of some sort. The reason the anti-piracy group has now decided to take action, is apparently due to the fact that 15% of Norway's total population are streaming illegally obtained video content for free.
Norway amping up efforts to combat online piracy
According to a report on consumer behaviour released by Swedish consultancy firm Mediavision in July, 750,000 Norwegians are now illegally obtaining video content.
But now Rettighetsalliansen Norge says that 250,000 of those same users are accessing Popcorn Time on a weekly basis, and now the group is considering using the database it has collected to initiate legal proceedings against these users, and the Norwegian government is siding with the anti-piracy group.
"There are very few who think it's ok to steal a DVD in the store, but to use such illegal streaming services is practically the same as stealing a DVD," undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture Bjørgulv Vinje Borgundvåg told NRK.
"Two years ago, Parliament adopted an amendment providing Rights Alliance and the people who own these intellectual property right to take action, and to the court to ask for compensation for abuse of their intellectual property. We are now considering further whether we must make several legislative changes to protect intellectual property that is being abused online."
US and Denmark also going after Popcorn Time users
However, Norway is not the only country starting to get fed up with the rise of Popcorn Time – the film-makers of the 2014 Adam Sandler movie The Cobbler filed a lawsuit on 16 August with the federal court in Oregon, requesting a subpoena to compel internet provider Comcast to hand over the identifying information pertaining to 11 Popcorn Time users.
According to TorrentFreak, the users had been traced via their IP addresses and found to be living in Portland, Salem, Beaverton, Lake Oswego, Gresham and Hillsboro. Once identified, the film-makers want the defendants to collectively pay damages of up to $150,000 (£97,000), as well as a permanent injunction ordering the defendants to stop pirating the content.
And then there's Denmark, where police arrested the webmasters behind two websites explaining how to use Popcorn Time on 18 August, took the websites down and assumed control of the domains Popcorntime.dk and Popcorn-time.dk.
The two men face charges of distributing information about how to pirate content online and could be given prison sentences of up to six years.