When we first read about White Rabbit years ago, we initially dismissed it as yet another attempt to make pirates voluntarily pay for the content they consume.
We have seen a few of these services come and go over the years. They all failed due to a lack of support from both content creators and pirates.
That White Rabbit first sought interest from the press during the 2018 “ICO craze” didn’t help either. At the time, there was an overload of creative blockchain ideas that raised millions of dollars. Most of these are no longer around today.
White Rabbit’s coin offering didn’t go particularly well either, but the project is far from gone. The company reinvented itself and, over the past few weeks, the service quietly launched in the UK, France, and Norway, with several movie companies and ‘unnamed’ pirate sites as partners.
White Rabbit Launched in Cannes
This process hasn’t been easy. The company had to win the trust of key movie industry players, who usually stay far away from everything piracy-related. However, the team persisted and during a presentation at the film festival in Cannes this year, there was plenty of interest.
We tuned into this presentation as well and were quite surprised by what we saw. The White Rabbit browser extension had developed into one of the most convenient search engines for pirated movies. Better than any pirate tool we knew. Perhaps too good?
During the presentation in Cannes the White Rabbit team showed that, after installing the Chrome extension, people can search for any film. The extension then displays a list of official sources and pirated alternatives. Clicking on the “pirate” option takes you straight to an unauthorized streaming service.
Live Pirate Streaming at a Film Festival
This live demo led to the slightly unusual situation that movies such as Disney’s “Luca” were streamed from a pirate site at one of the most prestigious film festivals. The revenue potential soon became apparent though. After roughly 30 seconds, a popup appeared that asked whether the user would like to pay for this film, or not.
The extension officially launched a few weeks ago and, at the time, this process was still in place. However, when we tried White Rabbit again this week things had changed.
Pay to Pirate Blockbusters?
The extension still offers ‘access’ to a wide range of movies including the latest blockbusters, but the pirate links only appear after making a payment. If people go to one of the ‘supported’ pirate sites directly, they will be alerted through the usual popup.
Finding a film through the extension is quite easy. When we searched for “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” it came up right away.
Sure enough, after paying €2, we were immediately redirected to a pirate streaming site. In this example, we were linked to 123-movies.as.
The same procedure also works for other films, including Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and Disney exclusives. Instead of paying for a subscription to these legal streaming platforms, you can simply pay €2 and enjoy it on a pirate site.
TorrentFreak spoke to White Rabbit’s CEO Alan R. Milligan who informed us that this is not how the extension is supposed to work. Movies that are still in theaters or are exclusive to a platform are meant to be redirected to official channels.
“When users search for these films they are redirected to the film on the official streaming platform or to the cinema to buy a ticket. The majority of films are however non-exclusive films where revenue for that filmmaker and producer is vital to keep them making films,” Milligan says.
Indeed, when we search for “Seaspiracy” we are redirected to Netflix. However, it is clear that White Rabbit needs to improve things on the backend to get rid of the errors we spotted.
One example of a non-exclusive film that’s available on purpose is Dune, which can also be ‘bought’ for €2. This sounds great, but there could be some complications. White Rabbit has teamed up with some copyright holders in the regions where it’s available (UK, France, Norway), but not all are not on board yet.
This means that, despite paying, you are not authorized to stream the content. Similarly, White Rabbit itself is treading in dangerous waters by acting as a paid piracy gateway, despite its good intentions.
White Rabbit’s CEO, who himself worked as a film producer in the past, tells us that he’s aware of this issue. He realizes that not all major studios will come on board immediately, but he clarified that the company isn’t planning to profit from the content of others.
If someone pays money for a film that’s not connected to one of White Rabbit’s existing partners this revenue will be held in a secure account to be claimed at a later date. If the rightsholder doesn’t want it, the money will be returned to the user who paid for it.
Support from the EU and Filmmakers
While the major Hollywood players could have reservations, White Rabbit has plenty of support as well. The project is backed by the EU and several filmmakers, who see it as a potential revenue driver.
“White Rabbit and its investors, including the EU and film producers, believe P2P+blockchain is THE opportunity to secure technological independence by decentralised distribution, secured data ownership, and direct payments from fans to artists,” Milligan tells us.
“With technology we can allow everyone and anyone to become a streaming platform. White Rabbit’s content recognition combined with ownership verification and blockchain transactions turns this opportunity into reality.”
Milligan and his team are not the only ones who see pirate sites as potential partners. Several movie industry players have teamed up with White Rabbit to explore this new business model.
Pirates As an Opportunity
This includes Bertrand Faivre from The Bureau Films, who believes that it can help to generate revenue from people who wouldn’t otherwise pay.
“We see the White Rabbit model as a good opportunity to try and move the situation on the piracy front and the problem it solves for us is that it clearly distinguishes the customers who are ready to screen our films for a fair price… and the thieves,” Faivre tells us.
This vision is shared by film financier and producer Ian Sharp, who also sees it as a way to break free from the major streaming platforms, which don’t always offer the best licensing deals for films.
“White Rabbit is an opportunity for the film industry to become independent from tech giants. Platforms are the past. Viral distribution is the future,” Sharp tells us.
“White Rabbit enables direct distribution to fans and they pay us directly for what they watch. This removes gatekeepers for both fans and filmmakers and ensures content diversity and access for everyone. Nothing could be better.”
The Blockchain Connection
People who use White Rabbit won’t notice it, but White Rabbit is built around a blockchain. There is no need to pay with cryptocurrencies. However, behind the scenes the movie payments are divided through blockchain entries.
These public transactions add transparency and make it clear how much money goes to the rightsholders, White Rabbit, and potential pirate sites that team up with the company.
Ultimately, White Rabbit hopes to build this blockchain distribution model out even further, so all people who contributed to a film, including actors and hairdressers, can get paid directly.
That last bit has yet to be developed but the opportunity is there. Ultimately, White Rabbit envisions a future where pirate sites and filmmakers join forces. Where they can all profit as well.
Whether this will work has yet to be seen. We envision quite a few legal hurdles and pushback from major movie industry players. At the same time, pirates have to be willing to pay too. However, these issues are not stopping Milligan and the rest of the team.
Onboarding Pirate sites
Behind the scenes, there are negotiating partnerships with various pirate sites. White Rabbit wasn’t willing to name any yet, but the company sees pirate sites as allies in the ‘fight’ against leading streaming platforms and invites them to come aboard.
“We are at a historical juncture in the relationship between the film industry and piracy sites. We have a common cause: reducing Tech Giant’s dominance – and on more than just streaming,” Milligan tells us.
“As such I invite every piracy site to join the professionalization of the P2P streaming space – to become players in the film industry,” he adds.
For those who want to give it a try, White Rabbit is available in the Chrome store. Due to old-fashioned licensing issues, the extension can only be used in the UK, Norway, and France for now.
White Rabbit doesn’t currently indicate which films are officially licensed and which are not, so it’s always wise to proceed with care.