Is Kodi le­gal?

PC & Tech Authority - - FEATURE -

Type “Is Kodi…” into Google and the sec­ond phrase that ap­pears in the search en­gine’s au­to­com­plete list is “le­gal”. The sim­ple an­swer to that ques­tion is “yes”. But even a cur­sory search for Kodi on eBay will bring up hordes of “fully loaded” de­vices of­fer­ing Net­flix, Sky Sports and adult chan­nels for free. It’s lit­tle won­der peo­ple are moved to check if it’s le­gal.

Kodi is merely the open-source me­dia player soft­ware that’s used to power those no-brand stream­ing de­vices you find on eBay, as well as of­fer­ing apps for Win­dows, Linux, Mac, An­droid and other plat­forms (see over­leaf). There’s noth­ing il­le­gal within Kodi it­self – it’s what peo­ple serve up us­ing Kodi that has copy­right hold­ers fu­ri­ously fil­ing law­suits.

FULLY LOADED BOXES

A quick scan through the News sec­tion of the Fed­er­a­tion Against Copy­right Theft’s (FACT) web­site leaves you in lit­tle doubt as to what’s keep­ing its lawyers busy: IPTV boxes. Story af­ter story lists suc­cess­ful prosecutions against peo­ple who have been caught sell­ing boxes that al­low pubs, clubs or con­sumers to stream pay-to-view tele­vi­sion for free.

eBay and other sites are crammed with th­ese de­vices, adorned with lo­gos for Net­flix, Sky Sports and other pre­mium chan­nels. “En­joy ev­ery sin­gle sport­ing event that is be­ing aired,” reads the blurb on one such eBay list­ing. “All foot­ball matches, golf, F1, NBA, NFL, MMA, UFC.” And all yours for a one-off pay­ment of $80 or of­ten less – cheaper than two months’ sub­scrip­tion to Sky Sports.

There’s an­other logo you’ll nor­mally find amongst those of the pre­mium chan­nels on such listings: Kodi’s. Kodi is the soft­ware of choice for such boxes, and it’s there­fore un­der­stand­able why some see its brand as near syn­ony­mous with pi­rated con­tent.

Kodi spokesper­son Nathan Bet­zen is quick to dis­tance the non-profit con­sor­tium from the pi­rates. “I want to make some­thing pretty clear,” he wrote when we asked him where Kodi stands on its soft­ware be­ing used as a means of dis­tri­bu­tion for pi­rated ma­te­rial. “Kodi is not used to dis­trib­ute pi­rated ma­te­rial. Pi­rated ma­te­rial is be­ing dis­trib­uted by on­line file lock­ers that are scraped by piracy web­sites. Then piracy ad­dons scrape those web­sites. Kodi is be­ing used as the player for those add-ons. Kodi it­self is a video player, not in any way a dis­trib­u­tor.”

Yet, there’s no doubt that many oth­ers are hold­ing the con­sor­tium ac­count­able for the con­tent that’s viewed via Kodi, in much the same way the copy­right hold­ers held The Pi­rate Bay ac­count­able for link­ing to pi­rated movies. Al­though Kodi it­self has been largely im­mune from the law­suits that have been filed against box sellers and add-on devel­op­ers, it has been tar­nished by as­so­ci­a­tion, with com­pa­nies such as Amazon and Ap­ple re­fus­ing to al­low Kodi into their app stores.

Kodi has be­come more de­fen­sive about its rep­u­ta­tion in re­cent months, en­ter­ing Twit­ter slang­ing matches with pub­li­ca­tions that sug­gest it pro­motes piracy through its soft­ware, and plac­ing prom­i­nent warn­ings on its web­site stat­ing: “Kodi does not pro­vide any me­dia it­self,” and that “the Kodi project does not pro­vide any sup­port for boot­leg video con­tent”.

“We want to spend our time de­vel­op­ing soft­ware… We do not want to be forced into a for­ever game of whack-a-mole”

“I think they are both­ered, be­cause they’re get­ting so much s*** about it,” Kieron Sharp, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Fed­er­a­tion Against Copy­right Theft (FACT) told PC & Tech Au­thor­ity. How­ever, Sharp is sym­pa­thetic to Kodi’s cause. “Kodi in it­self is not a prob­lem­atic piece of soft­ware,” he said. “It’s only the way it’s be­ing used.

“We’ve had some dis­cus­sions with Kodi about their soft­ware, but re­al­is­ti­cally I have to say I can’t see how they can do very much,” he added. “We are work­ing with them on a me­dia mes­sage… so peo­ple can un­der­stand what the prob­lem is with Kodi and there’s a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tional mes­sage that goes out.”

ADD-ON AT­TACK

In­stead, or­gan­i­sa­tions such as FACT and the copy­right hold­ers they rep­re­sent are go­ing af­ter the add-on devel­op­ers, the peo­ple who pro­vide the work­arounds to ac­cess payper-view con­tent for free. For ex­am­ple, the Amer­i­can satel­lite and broad­cast provider Dish Net­work has filed a law­suit against Kodi add-on ZemTV and tvad­dons.ag, ac­cus­ing them of copy­right in­fringe­ment. “The ZemTV ser­vice is re­trans­mit­ting th­ese chan­nels over the in­ter­net to end users that down­load the ZemTV add-on for the Kodi me­dia player, which is avail­able for down­load at the web­sites tvad­dons.ag and tvad­dons.org,” Dish Net­work’s lawyers claim, de­mand­ing US$150,000 for each copy­right in­fringe­ment.

That law­suit ap­pears to have had a chill­ing ef­fect on other add-on devel­op­ers, with sev­eral well-known add-ons shut­ting up shop within 48 hours of the law­suit be­ing filed. “In light of cur­rent events we have de­cided to close down Phoenix,” wrote one de­vel­oper of an add-on that pre­vi­ously of­fered a wide se­lec­tion of TV chan­nels and on-de­mand movies and TV shows. “This is not some­thing that was easy for us to do; we have all formed a bond that can­not be bro­ken as a team and have a HUGE sup­port base that we are thank­ful of,” de­vel­oper Cos­mix wrote on the tvad­dons.ag fo­rum.

Mean­while, FACT con­tin­ues to tar­get box deal­ers: the eBay sellers or peo­ple sup­ply­ing pubs with boxes that help them avoid the steep cost of a Sky Sports sub­scrip­tion. The pun­ish­ments aren’t a slap on the wrist ei­ther. Mal­colm Mayes, 65, re­ceived a ten-month sus­pended sen­tence and was forced to pay costs and fines to­talling over $410,000 in March, af­ter he was caught sup­ply­ing IPTV boxes to pubs and clubs for £1,000 a pop. Three other sup­pli­ers of fully loaded IPTV boxes were forced to pay a com­bined $440,000 in costs fol­low­ing ac­tions brought by the Premier League in De­cem­ber 2016.

“A lot of the work we’ve done with the po­lice has been to at­tack those quite high­level sup­pli­ers of the de­vices,” ex­plained FACT’s Sharp. “Then there are ob­vi­ously the smaller re­sellers and re­tail­ers, who are all part and par­cel of our over­all strat­egy. And then, of course, the peo­ple them­selves who use them. If we turn over a ma­jor sup­plier and he has all his cus­tomer lists, it’s our duty to fol­low up on all those peo­ple who have been buy­ing boxes.”

Have there been any prosecutions of in­di­vid­u­als caught view­ing th­ese il­le­gal streams on Kodi boxes? “Up till now it’s been the sup­pli­ers, and th­ese prosecutions and in­ves­ti­ga­tions take time to go through the courts,” said Sharp. “It could be at some point that some­one who is just an end user may find them­selves un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­cause of the de­tails we hold when we raid th­ese places of all the peo­ple who’ve bought them.” We couldn’t find ev­i­dence of an in­di­vid­ual viewer be­ing pros­e­cuted so far, how­ever.

LOCK­ING DOWN THE SOFT­WARE

Is there more Kodi could be do­ing to pre­vent its soft­ware be­ing used by pi­rate box shifters? The firm bri­dles at the sug­ges­tion. “We take no mea­sures to pre­vent pi­rated ma­te­rial be­ing dis­trib­uted via Kodi, be­cause again, Kodi does not dis­trib­ute ma­te­rial,” in­sisted Kodi’s Nathan Bet­zen.

In­deed, the con­sor­tium ar­gues it’s be­ing held ac­count­able for some­thing that’s be­yond its con­trol. “We don’t think Kodi should be held to a higher stan­dard than Win­dows or An­droid or any­one else,” Bet­zen ar­gued. “When tor­rents were big, no-one asked Mi­crosoft or Ap­ple why they don’t sim­ply lock tor­rent ap­pli­ca­tions out of Win­dows or OS X. And even now, th­ese ad­dons merely scrape al­ready ex­ist­ing piracy web­sites. No-one asks the peo­ple be­hind Chrome or Fire­fox why they don’t sim­ply block those… web­sites. At the end of the day, we want to spend our time de­vel­op­ing soft­ware, just like Mi­crosoft, Ap­ple, Google, Mozilla, and oth­ers do. We do not want to be forced into a for­ever game of whack-a-mole.”

That’s not to say Kodi’s turn­ing a blind eye. The com­pany does “take the proac­tive steps of ban­ning add-ons from our fo­rum and our repo [the soft­ware’s add-on repos­i­tory] that en­able piracy”. How­ever, a quick Google will un­cover links to add-ons that can be side­loaded into Kodi.

Per­haps the way to stop peo­ple reach­ing for il­le­gal streams is to make it eas­ier to ac­cess le­git­i­mate feeds. Big play­ers such as Net­flix, Amazon, Sky are all con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence from Kodi, de­spite its pop­u­lar­ity. “We do think that pro­vid­ing users with le­git­i­mate means of ac­quir­ing con­tent would re­duce the piracy prob­lem,” said Bet­zen. “Gabe Newell from Valve once called piracy a ‘ser­vice prob­lem’. We think that the eas­ier it is for users to ac­quire con­tent le­git­i­mately, the less likely they are to try to get it il­le­gally.”

Bet­zen doesn’t blame the big-name providers for fail­ing to of­fer Kodi add-ons. “They are all con­trac­tu­ally ob­li­gated to fol­low en­cryp­tion rules that Kodi has, to this point, been un­able to sup­port,” he said. “Re­cent de­vel­op­ment work is now mak­ing it ap­pear pos­si­ble that Kodi could sup­port us­ing le­git­i­mate de­cryp­tion stan­dards like Widevine or PlayReady in the fu­ture, so a group like Net­flix or Amazon could the­o­ret­i­cally sup­port run­ning in Kodi. It’s hard to say what ex­actly will hap­pen in the fu­ture, but we are hope­ful.”

There are a host of so-called “fully loaded” Kodi de­vices on eBay, of­fer­ing Net­flix, Sky Sports and so on – for free

Kodi is quick to dis­tance it­self from the pi­rate box sup­pli­ers as it merely sup­plies the soft­ware, not the ma­te­rial

Amer­i­can satel­lite provider Dish Net­work has ac­cused add-on ZemTV of copy­right in­fringe­ment

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