Legally questionable free-movie service Popcorn Time has now expanded its content offerings to include television shows, and has added an Android app to complement its desktop application. But you won't find the app in the Google Play Store: Google immediately pulled it due to "intellectual property violation."
Google isn't the only entity that considers Popcorn Time to be less than legal. The free service gives the appearance of streaming, but it's really using the BitTorrent protocol to download content from online "pirate" websites. What Popcorn Time does is make torrenting films so easy that it seems like it's streaming.
The Popcorn Time Android app can still be downloaded directly from the developer's website, then sideloaded onto an Android device. Popcorn Time's desktop software is also available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.
MORE: Best Android Antivirus Software 2014
When it first appeared earlier this year, Popcorn Time was as controversial as it was popular. It was developed by a group of Argentine programmers, but by March they had stepped down from the project; although they insisted Popcorn Time was indeed legal, they said the scrutiny had worn them out.
That wasn't the end of Popcorn Time. Torrenting website YTS picked up the project and made it open source, letting anyone view and modify the source code. YTS reformatted Popcorn Time to work on its own interface, so that Popcorn Time now streams movies directly from YTS's website. The newly added television shows. however, are added through EZTV, a torrent site dedicated to TV.
"Due to video and audio codec limitations, we are very selective on what releases we grab via the API. That is why some TV shows appear to be missing episodes," the main Popcorn Time service wrote on its FAQ.
Finding and playing movies via Popcorn Time is much easier than using a torrent directly, but that doesn't mean users aren't torrenting. When you select and watch a movie or TV show on Popcorn Time, that media is downloaded to a "secret folder" on your computer, which is deleted the next time you restart your computer, Popcorn Time says.
While you are watching the content, you are also "seeding," or re-uploading, parts of the media file you've just downloaded. This means others trying to access that file will be able to download and watch it more quickly because they can grab pieces of it from your computer, as well as from the machines of other Popcorn Time users.
This lets Popcorn Time give the appearance of streaming, even though it is actually handling the file as any other torrent client would. The beauty of Popcorn Time is the sleek and easy-to-use interface that makes finding and using torrents much easier.
But that interface doesn't immunize the user from local copyright laws, or his or her Internet service provider (ISP) from legal threats by the entertainment industry. Your ISP could be presented with a subpoena and forced to hand over records of your Web traffic, and you could then be sued for whatever sum of money the entertainment industry deems fitting.
"Downloading copyrighted material may be illegal in your country. Use at your own risk," Popcorn Time warns in its FAQ.
The Android app for Popcorn Time is developed by another independent group called Time4popcorn. The app can be downloaded from the project's website.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @JillScharr and Google+. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.