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Piracy service Popcorn Time now has a legal alternative called Butter

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Camilo Rueda López / Flickr

One of the many versions of popular piracy service Popcorn Time has now spawned what its creators promise will be a totally legal version of the technology. Butter, announced today, is a version of Popcorn Time "stripped down of the parts that made people wary" — namely, the parts that let users stream illegally downloaded BitTorrent films in a Netflix-style interface. Effectively, it's a copy of the service's basic infrastructure, separated from its sketchier counterpart to make developers more comfortable experimenting with it.

Popcorn Time isn't a service as much as an idea: a simple tool that hides the messy aspects of finding and downloading files using the BitTorrent protocol. Various developers have been cloning and forking it since it first launched in early 2014, dodging legal shutdowns and expanding into new territory like browser-based streaming. Butter's creators note that their open source code is an easy starting point to create new clones, and while they're still also keeping a version of Popcorn Time online, this gives the service a certain amount of cover.

Less cynically, it could theoretically do something that no one has quite managed: make the highly useful BitTorrent protocol mainstream. Clients like uTorrent already let users stream movies while they're downloading, but Popcorn Time also eliminates the need to find torrent files beforehand. In addition to distributing the infrastructure code, the Butter team will offer an app that streams video from Vodo.net and potentially material from the Internet Archive. That said, the process is mostly intimidating when you're downloading illegal material on shady popup-filled sites — legitimate BitTorrent media downloads are already pretty friendly, and the free Internet Archive has its own streaming options.

The group's core Popcorn Time service, meanwhile, is offline after — according to a message on the site — problems with online attacks and the group's service provider.

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