What is Kodi and is Kodi legal? Complete Kodi UK streaming guide
What is Kodi and is it legal? From the EU and UK government to the likes of Amazon, eBay and the Premier League, it seems that everybody is weighing in on the debate surrounding so-called ‘fully loaded’ Kodi boxes these days. What’s above board and what falls foul of the law? Here’s everything you need to know, including all the latest news and what it means for your streaming.
Rewind to April 2016 and Kodi was still a relatively niche media streaming platform, loved by HTPC (Home Theatre PC) enthusiasts and cord cutters, but still largely a mystery to the masses.
Jump to 2017 and the Software Formerly Known as XBMC is hitting the headlines virtually every day – and it hasn’t exactly been good news for streamers.
Here, we’ll answer all the key questions, breakdown the current legal landscape, translate the latest rulings, and explain how it all affects you.
What is Kodi and what are ‘fully-loaded’ Kodi boxes?
You might have heard about something called a ‘Kodi box’, but there’s actually no such thing.
Kodi isn’t a physical device, but rather a piece of open-source software, specifically a media player developed by the XBMC Foundation – a not-for-profit organisation.
This software isn’t naughty in its own right, but it can be abused, as Kodi’s open source nature means it’s easy to augment the base Kodi media player with third-party add-ons – some of which promote access to copyright-protected content.
Some enterprising pirates and dodgy retailers thus promote ‘fully loaded’ Kodi boxes, which are Android TV set-top boxes that not only have Kodi pre-installed, but also ship readied with plug-ins that allowed you to stream copyrighted content for free.
This has led to widespread use of Kodi boxes to illegally stream movies, TV, and premium live sports – all without payment. Thus, the recent legal crackdown began.
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Kodi on Trial: What’s the latest Kodi news?
The biggest news for UK streamers happened back on May 3, when the maximum prison sentence for illegally streaming copyrighted media soared from two years to 10, after the UK government passed the controversial Digital Economy Act into law.
More recently, Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) Director General Kieron Sharp raised the prospect that Kodi end users who partake in dodgy streams could start being named and shamed in the “very near future.”
In an interview, he said:
“At the moment, where that will lead we don’t know. We have a number of cases coming before the courts in terms of those people who have been providing, selling and distributing illicit streaming devices. It’s something for the very near future, when we’ll consider whether we go any further than that, in terms of customers.”
However, Sharp added that is was unlikely people “at the lower end of the scale” would feel the full force of the law – though he didn’t discount the prospect of legal action entirely.
“I don’t think [people who use pirate Kodi add-ons] have anything to fear from the fact that the sentencing has gone from two years to 10 years because at that level, if people get into trouble with the law, they will still be dealt with on the basis of the level of the crime they’re committing. And that would still be at the bottom end of the sentencing scale.”
At this stage, we wouldn’t care to risk it. Frankly, watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on the cheap just isn’t worth a day, let alone a decade, in chokey – however likely or unlikely that may be.
Another key development has been the shuttering of a number of popular Kodi-related services. These include the Phoenix and Navi-X – both of which hosted pirate streams – and add-on aggregator website TVAddons.
The Navi-X team gave the following statement regarding their decision to shutdown.
“Hosting Navi-X playlists is no longer something we feel comfortable doing due to the potential liability that comes with it.”
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The EU is also among the growing list of influential Kodi critics.
On Wednesday April 26, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) appears to have hammered another nail in the platform’s coffin, effectively banning the sale of ‘fully loaded’ Kodi boxes by way of a lengthy ruling.
In a detailed statement (H/T TorrentFreak), the ECJ deemed that copyright law, “must be interpreted as covering the sale of a multimedia player, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, on which there are pre-installed add-ons, available on the internet, containing hyperlinks to websites — that are freely accessible to the public — on which copyright-protected works have been made available to the public without the consent of the right holders.”
In plain English, that means that Android TV boxes shipping with with both Kodi and pre-installed third-party add-ons that provide easy access to pirated content fall foul of the law.
Furthermore, it adds that previous exemptions to EU copyright law covering “acts of temporary reproduction, on a multimedia player” fail to “satisfy the conditions set out in those provisions.”
This is a key point, as it means that the fact streaming doesn’t result in the creation of physical copies of rights protected content is no longer a legitimate defence against charges of copyright infringement.
Hollywood appears to be tooling up to fight Kodi, too, with the President and Managing Director of the Motion Picture Association’s EMEA region, Stan McCoy, telling a recent panel that hardware which directly enbabed streaming of pirated content represent a new challenge for the entertainment industry.
“If you think of old-fashioned peer-to-peer piracy as 1.0, and then online illegal streaming websites as 2.0, in the audio-visual sector, in particular, we now face challenge number 3.0, which is what I’ll call the challenge of illegal streaming devices,” he said.
On the retail side, Amazon and eBay have both announced plans to ban the sale of ‘fully loaded’ Android TV boxes on their marketplaces, while the Premier League has thrown is considerable financial clout behind legal efforts to thwart pirate sport streams.
What does Kodi have to say?
As the software often misconstrued to be enabling such piracy – as we’ve already said, and we as we’ll say again, it’s not – Kodi has become increasingly aggressive in its public denouncements of add-ons and hardware that promote copyright infringement.
Most recently, it posted a damning statement on its website aimed at those who think the platform is designed to give free access to copyright protected content:
“If you post in our forums or social channels about a pirate add-on or streaming service not working, please expect ZERO sympathy or support. We don’t care. We care less than not caring. We don’t care biggly.
“To counter a popular comment; if the Kodi user base drops a huge percentage because pirate services flee or die, we’re fine with that.”
Prior to that, Kodi welcomed the EU ruling on Twitter:
The non-profit organisation (for that is what Kodi is) has sought to clarify how the rulings affect end users, though it’s keen to clarify that its post reflects “opinions and not facts.”
Still, it helps shed additional light on a couple of the important issues we’ve mentioned and cuts through a load of Brussels jargon.
On the sale of so-called ‘fully loaded’ boxes, Kodi said:
“The [EU] court said that yes, this was a communication to the public, so selling a box with links to copyrighted content is illegal.”
The debate surrounding streaming pirated content, however, is more complex in light of the EU ruling, it said at the time.
Kodi summarises it like this:
“To put it simply, pirate streaming appears to be illegal in the EU.”
The answer is clear: Kodi doesn’t want anything to do with add-ons promoting pirate streams, as its software is perfectly legal.
Which brings us to the big question…
Is Kodi legal or illegal, and what’s its future?
The situation surrounding Kodi is a minefield at present.
While we’re confident we understand what the latest legal rulings mean and how they are likely to be applied in practice, we’re not lawyers – nor are we able to predict how individual judges might now interpret the law.
But nevertheless, there is a simple answer – at least for the time being.
While the sale of so-called ‘fully loaded’ Kodi boxes is clearly in the dock, and streamers of pirated content now also face the (ridiculous) wrath of the law, Kodi’s core open-source media streaming software has not been indicted in any way.
Moreover, Kodi has finally started to fight back, saying it will maintain its “neutral” stance and not attempt to police its considerable user base.
“The court seems to have made it quite clear in its ruling that they view Kodi itself as something akin to Firefox or the internet, perfectly legal, while the links/add-ons specifically are the illegal IP.
“Even though pirate streaming appears to be illegal in Europe, we still stand by our neutral policy. We are developers and not the police, and we have no interest in acting as police for our own software. Kodi will remain as free and as open as it always has.
“Feel free to continue using Kodi however you want.”
For what it’s worth, we don’t condone using Kodi for anything other than legal streaming, but the platform itself?
As legal as a Curly Wurly.
Kodi Do’s and Don’ts: A basic primer
We’ve been following the Kodi situation for a while now, and we’re finally at a point where we can issue some general pointers on the popular HTPC platform.
Do feel free to check out Kodi. It’s a great platform and the software is not illegal in any way.
Don’t buy a so-called ‘fully loaded’ Kodi box. These aren’t just being marketed in a misleading manner, they’re increasingly dangerous – the EU recently issued a recall notice for one such device, the Chinese-made OTT TV Box 4K, which said insufficent power suppy units left end users at risk of electric shock.
Do also check out Kodi add-ons – most are similarly legal and its official repository highlights some of the best.
Don’t bother going crying to Kodi if a dodgy add-on stops working. It’s simply not interested and won’t provide you with tech support.
Do take care if you are looking to explore some of the…greyer areas we’ve mentioned here. We don’t recommend this in any way, shape, or form, as there are not only legal risks to consider in the UK and elsewhere – which we’ve outlined above – but also cyber security threats.
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Is it last orders for Kodi, or will the platform survive the brouhaha surrounding the sale of ‘fully loaded’ boxes? Share your thoughts in the comments.