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The Truth About Kodi - UPDATED May '17

Before we start on this little excursion I want to state that I am in no way advocating that you go and do anything in this article. This is to demystify all the click-bait and sensationalist news out there about Kodi at the moment. From most of the headlines I’ve read you'd be easily forgiven for thinking that Kodi is an illegal piece of software that allows people to break the law. Neither of those things is true. Kodi is all over the news right now because some people are being prosecuted over the use of this handy little bit of code, right here in the UK. I thought it'd be a good idea to break down exactly what Kodi is, what it does, how it might be used to break the law very easily (we're not sure that what it does is actually illegal right now, though you watch how fast that firms up! *See Update)

 

Firstly, Kodi isn't a box. It's a bit of software that was originally designed to help you keep all your digital subscriptions in one handy place, and it's open source - which means that anyone can access the building blocks of the software to change, adapt and create new things with it. Anyone. Kodi itself is a perfectly legal app to use (that's what it is, an app) and is even in the windows store. Just type it into your windows search bar and click install. It's the extra bits that you -can- add to it that allow it to access illegal content.

 

Until you install the extra add-ons for Kodi, you can't break the law. Once you have the extra add-on that allows the app to search what is essentially a 'pirate treasure map' to all the torrents and pirated online content that exist, you can break the law. The same stuff you'd find on Pirate Bay (if you could access it from the UK!) is what you'll find in add-ons like Exodus or Phoenix. The tricky bit in the law comes in here. When you watch any content on Kodi, it simply streams from the internet a chunk at a time, just like Netflix does. Once you’ve finished watching the chunk, it gets deleted from your system. So technically, you don't ever own any pirated content...therefore you're not technically breaking any laws. Yet. * See Update

 

In a landmark ruling in 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that looking at pirated content online isn't breaking the law. In fact, it stated that any media that appears "on the user's screen" and in the "internet cache of that computer's hard disk" are "temporary" and "may therefore be made without the authorisation of the copyright holders." If you download it though, different story. You own it now, you can be fined. The question is, however, should you be doing that? You clearly intend to get something for nothing, perhaps it's not the most morally right thing to be doing? It's not my place to judge. Again, just saying. The software is only a tool of the user, right?

 

Other add-ons allow you to watch sports channels without paying for it. Say you want to play the football on the telly in your pub, but the license costs a lot. Buy a Kodi and get the add-on, you don't have to pay for it. Some enterprising gentlemen saw the business opportunity there and started selling 'fully loaded Kodi boxes' online. You can install the app on pretty much anything except iOS (without jailbreaking - which I am also not advocating here) and so there are a load of options when it comes to what you can run it on. The amazon Fire stick is great, but I particularly like the Raspberry Pi option. (You can also do a lot more with your telly when it's running a Linux OS. Like control your whole house.)

 

Anyway, these guys were selling boxes that had the illegal add-ons pre-installed with the intention of sidestepping the licensing fee. Selling a 'fully loaded' Kodi machine is in breach of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988. It might also be in breach of the Fraud Act. In December last year, Terry O'Reilly was sentenced to 4 years for selling illegal set top boxes in a prosecution brought by the Premier League.

 

Kodi themselves can't really do much about it as their software is open source, which means it's essentially beyond their control at this point. They will chase down anyone who uses their trademark to sell illegal boxes, but other than that that it's up to the users and coders what gets done with the software itself.  There will always be pirates on the binary seas, it seems. Just another argument for ethical hacking.

 

So; in short, the facts stand thus;

  1. Kodi itself is not illegal.
  2. Watching online content through Kodi's add-ons is not currently illegal, either. *See Update
  3. Selling boxes with that capability is, however. Don't do that and you should be fine.

Hope that clears it up,

 

MrC.

********UPDATE: Since writing this article some facts have changed. It's now a civil offense to stream content through Kodi, which means that the copyright holder will have to sue you for infringement directly. It is however, a criminal offense to host files that are streamed by users - that's how I'd have done it, too. Attacking the hosts rather than users; much simpler. Just sayin'.