What is Kodi and is Kodi legal?
Kodi boxes, Kodi addons, Kodi crackdowns… Kodi has been in the news a lot lately, and rarely for positive reasons. From the EU and UK government to the likes of Sky, the Premier League, Amazon, Facebook and eBay, it seems that everybody has attempted to stop the spread of so-called “fully loaded” Kodi boxes over recent months.
Rewind to April 2016 and Kodi was still a relatively niche media streaming platform, loved by home theatre PC enthusiasts and cord cutters, but still largely a mystery to the masses. Everything changed in 2017, when people realised that − used in a certain (read “illegal”) way − it could help them access TV shows, films and live sports for free.
So what is Kodi and is it legal? Here’s what you need to know before you start using Kodi, including major developments and court cases.
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Kodi in the news
In September, researchers from cybersecurity firm ESET discovered that several infected third-party Kodi addons found on the Bubbles, Gaia and XvBMC repositories were secretly mining the cryptocurrency Monero with the help of unsuspecting Kodi users’ processing power.
The malware affects Windows and Linux users, the researchers say, and the UK has been found to be one of the top five countries affected by the threat.
All three repositories appear to be offline at the time of publication, “however, unwitting victims who have the cryptominer installed on their devices are likely still affected. On top of that, the malware is still present in other repositories and some ready-made Kodi builds, most likely without the knowledge of their authors,” ESET says.
Kodi, addons and boxes
Kodi is free, open-source software developed by the not-for-profit organisation XBMC Foundation. It’s an entertainment hub that lets you play videos, music, podcasts and other types of content from the web and local or network storage.
It’s available on devices running Linux, macOS, Windows, iOS and Android, and can be accessed on a variety of hardware, including smartphones, tablets, media players, computers and TVs.
The XBMC Foundation recently launched the second beta build of its upcoming v18 Leia release. It will bring big improvements for how the player handles music libraries, live TV (thanks to support for USB tuners), support for game emulators and controllers, and even support for generic DRM. Perhaps the most interesting new development is the work the team has been doing to get the player into a usable state as an Xbox One app.
The final version of Kodi v18 Leia is expected to land later this year, but you can get your hands on the software’s upcoming tweaks and enhancements early by downloading it here. However, as the foundation itself warns, if you decide to give it a try, create a backup first.
“Since we now started the Beta cycle a final release will be on the near horizon. When the final release will actually be is yet unknown as it all depends on the stability now more people will start using the v18 builds,” the XBMC Foundation wrote in a blog post in September.
Kodi is legal. However, one of the reasons it’s become so popular over recent years is the fact that you can use it to stream TV shows, films and live sports for free.
To use the software this way, you also need to install specific piracy-configured addons, created by third-party developers. Such addons are designed to help users break the law and, as such, they’re illegal.
Furthermore, since the process of tracking down and installing specific addons isn’t completely straightforward, there’s heavy demand for cheap media players that have already been pre-loaded with Kodi and a selection of reliable piracy-configured addons.
These devices have come to be known as “fully loaded” boxes, and they’ve proven rather troublesome for broadcasters, studios and the government, largely because they’re cheap, readily available and extremely easy to use.
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Kodi box crackdown
In April 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that the sale of Kodi boxes was illegal, as was the use of a media player to stream copyrighted content without the consent of the copyright holder. Previously, it was only against the law to download the content.
Since then, UK courts have seen plenty of Kodi-related action. These are some of the most high-profile cases we’ve had so far:
- In October 2017, Kodi box seller Brian Thompson was handed an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after pleading guilty to selling and advertising devices “designed, produced or adapted for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of effective technological measures”. In May 2018, however, he was fined just £1 by the courts, after it emerged that he had no significant assets to confiscate, despite pocketing £38,500 from selling the devices.
- In July 2018, two men were handed suspended prison sentences after being caught selling Kodi boxes under the name Oobersticks. One of the men, Glenn Burrows, was sentenced to 22 months behind bars, with the other, Darren Wicks, receiving a 20-month sentence. Interestingly, they appear to have attempted to avoid prosecution by supplying the boxes only partially configured, so their customers would have to complete the final stage of configuration themselves. However, the tactic didn’t save them.
- Also in July 2018, Kodi box seller John Haggerty, who managed to flog more than 8000 Infusum boxes between March 2013 and July 2015, making over £750,000 in the process, was jailed for five years and three months. His wife, Mary Gilfillan, was handed a two-year suspended sentence for fraud.
- In August 2018, Kodi box seller Warren Gleave from Burnley was sentenced to 16 months behind bars, according to TorrentFreak. Gleave, who’s believed to have earned more than £200,000 selling the illegal devices online over a period of three years, pleaded guilty to committing offenses under the Fraud Act 2006, after being investigated by Sky.
Major Kodi developments
Major online platforms including Amazon, Facebook and eBay banned the sale of “fully loaded” boxes on their websites in 2017, though investigations have found that they’re still quite easy to track down. Sellers have been dodging the bans simply by misspelling keywords, such as the names of legitimate content providers, in product listings. Think ‘eyepeetv’ boxes that let you watch ‘Sly’ and ‘Virmin’ Media for free.
“eBay, Facebook and Amazon have banned the sale of these devices, but criminals are beating the system by purposely misspelling brand names − we need to see tighter controls in place to help stop the sale of these devices,” Kieron Sharp, the CEO of the Federation Against Copyright Theft, told Trusted Reviews.
Facebook went a step further in August 2018, by banning the sale of any device that comes with “Kodi installed”, even if they’ve not been pre-loaded with piracy-configured addons. The prohibited content section of the social network’s commerce policies, however, adds that “add-on equipment for Kodi devices such as keyboards and remotes” are permitted.
Popular addon library site TVAddons − which has clashed very publicly with the XBMC Foundation in the past − became embroiled in a lawsuit in the US in 2017, where it was accused of copyright infringement.
The move prompted the site to delist a multitude of popular piracy-configured addons, including the extremely popular Exodus and Covenant addons, both of which can provide free and illegal access to a huge selection of TV shows and films. You can browse TVAddons’ updated list of blacklisted Kodi addons here.
“We are no longer indexing certain types of addons as a result of legal pressure. This doesn’t mean that you can’t install whatever you’d like, it just means that we can’t index those addons through our platform,” TVAddons announced in April 2018. “Right now we’re only indexing Kodi addons from which content licensing can be ‘easily’ verified. We’re not saying anyone else is bad, we just can’t be part of it.”
The Intellectual Property Office’s (IPO) 2018 Online Copyright Infringement Tracker report indicates that the crackdown on illegal boxes and addons might be working. For the report, 2890 people (based in the UK and aged 12 and older) who have consumed or shared content in the past three months were asked which service they used, and the responses suggested that fewer people are using Kodi in 2018 (6%) than there were in 2017 (7%).
That said, cybersecurity firm Irdeto revealed in May 2018 that it detected 5100 illegal streams showing last season’s Champions League knockout games. They reached 4,893,902 viewers. 2121 of these streams were found on dedicated pirate websites, with another 2093 detected across social media channels, and a comparatively low 886 streams found through illicit Kodi addons.
“The number of Kodi streams being lower than other channels … could be a result of the recent actions around illegal boxes and increased awareness of the risks of illegal addons,” Irdeto told Trusted Reviews.
It also dug up 427 illegal streams redistributing the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid. Of these, 133 were available on dedicated pirate sites, 199 were found on social media platforms including Periscope, Facebook and Twitch, and 95 were available through illicit Kodi addons.
The Premier League is keen to step up Kodi crackdown efforts, with its executive director William Bush recently criticising proponents of Kodi and even VPNs. “Promoting circumventions of the law should be discouraged and minimised,” he said. “I’m not saying it can be eliminated, but to have websites which show you how to break the law, have social media supply content which shows you how to break the law, everything from Kodi boxes to how to get a VPN to circumvent paying subscriptions … they should be discouraged.”
In July 2018, the High Court renewed an injunction allowing the Premier League to block live streams of games in the UK. It covers the entire 2018/19 Premier League season, and requires UK internet service providers to set about blocking the streams in real time.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has also called for tougher criminal sentences to be handed to users and sellers of illicit streaming devices, as well as creators of illegal Kodi addons.
“While the civil suits brought by the private sector are impactful, criminal actions by the federal government have a larger deterrent value, and thus would be even more effective at mitigating the problem,” it wrote in July 2018.
“Although not a streaming device case, the federal government’s criminal action against Megaupload, then the largest piracy “cyberlocker,” accounting for 4 percent of all Internet traffic, prompted many other pirate operations to shutter, and resulted in an 6.5 to 8.5 percent increase in digital sales for three major studios in 12 countries. We would expect similar results were the government to become more active in the fight against streaming devices.”
Kodi, Gaia and Orion
TVAddons recently issued a warning about a feature called Orion, which is designed to help other addons work more smoothly.
Orion describes itself as: “A service that indexes metadata and links from a variety of public websites and networks, including torrent, usenet, and hoster indexes. Big search engines like Google and Bing have web crawlers that search through the code of websites to extract information, links, and other useful data.
“Orion operates in a similar fashion to these search engines, but it is a distributed system maintained by the community … If one user conducts a search, the results are cached on Orion’s servers, allowing subsequent users to retrieve those results instead of having to redo the entire scraping process.
“This is especially useful for users with slow devices or those who simply do not want to wait for the lengthy scraping procedure. Orion does not create, store, or distribute any files whatsoever, but only caches textual metadata to assist users in the search process.”
It comes with a popular Kodi addon called Gaia, and TVAddons says it’s concerned that the way it works could get land Gaia users in trouble.
“Users signing up for the free service are doing so in hopes that they’ll find the latest episode of their favourite TV show, and not realizing the potential risks. Until now, we have not heard of any case of Kodi end users being sued for copyright infringement … because until now, Kodi addons have been mostly used to scrape external web sites from which the addon developers have no association. Users were never ‘contributing’ to piracy, but merely ‘leeching’ content,” TVAddons wrote in a blog post.
It continues: “The worry is that by having end users automatically contribute links they scrape to the Orion database, they could be considered distributors under the law. This could open certain regular Kodi users to significant liability, possibly fines in the tens of thousands.”
TVAddons believes that “thousands of unsuspecting Kodi users” could be using Orion, and says it hopes that the team behind the service “will at least make the risks more clear” upfront.
“If you are accessing content for free such as sport, TV and films for which you’d normally need a subscription, or go to the cinema, or buy a DVD, this is illegal and these addons have made it incredibly easy for consumers to access illegal content,” Kieron Sharp, the CEO of FACT, told Trusted Reviews.
“The fact that users are now at further risk due to Gaia’s new feature pasting user links into its own database should not be a surprise; if you choose to illegally stream you must realise the risks you face by putting your sensitive information into the hands of criminals. In addition to the technical dangers, there could be severe financial and legal consequences if consumers stream illegal material.”
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Kodi Primer: What to do and what not to do
Here are some basic pointers on using the popular platform:
- Do feel free to check out the software. It’s a great platform and the software is not illegal in any way.
- Don’t buy a so-called “fully loaded” box − they’re illegal.
- Do also check out addons – most are legal and Kodi’s official repository highlights some of the best.
- Don’t bother going crying to the XBMC Foundation if a dodgy addon stops working. It’s simply not interested and won’t provide you with tech support.
Do you think the anti-piracy crackdown is working? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @TrustedReviews.