KODI’S DRM BOMBSHELL
Will it block your favourite content?
The popular media-centre software Kodi has hit back at criticism of its new policy of supporting DRM, explaining in a blog post ( bit.ly/kodi423) that this is only to allow restricted content to play on its own system.
DRM (digital-rights management) is a euphemism for technology and standards that lock down who can view copyrighted content, to ensure it’s only seen by those who have paid for it and not pirates. Kodi doesn’t have a DRM system built in because the open-source licence it’s released under forbids such a restriction. “Kodi will never, ever require DRM to work, nor will it ever be a locked software”, said the Kodi team.
However, Kodi wants to be able to play Netflix and other paid-for content directly through its software, so you don’t have to switch between apps to watch films and TV shows on your television. To do that, Kodi uses the DRM tools in Android and Chrome, which allow it to stream content without offering its own DRM support. Kodi’s developers argue that supporting DRM in this limited, “low-level” way will change negative perceptions about their software.
The move comes as the Digital Economy Act comes into force. The much-debated legislation includes an increase in the potential prison time faced by pirates for illegally streaming copyrighted content, from two years to 10. So far, the authorities and rights holders such as the film industry have targeted people selling set-top boxes preloaded with Kodi, as well as the websites making the streams available. However, the legal change means that anyone streaming pirated content – via Kodi, a browser or any other method – is technically at risk of up to 10 years in prison.
How will it affect you?
Here’s how Kodi’s DRM system works: Android has its own software to play DRM content, so Kodi simply uses that – as the user, you don’t need to do anything. In Windows, it’s more complex because the Kodi software can’t connect to Netflix or other paid-for streaming providers. However, Chrome can do this, so Kodi uses the browser to handle the DRM while streaming continues inside the Kodi software. If you don’t have Chrome on your system, you presumably won’t be able to play Netflix. Kodi doesn’t come with the DRM bits and pieces itself, but borrows them from Google.
The Digital Economy Act probably won’t be used to target individuals with legal action for using Kodi to stream pirated content – but if it does happen, the risks are huge. You could be jailed for up to 10 years for illegal streaming, but the authorities are more likely to go after those making the streams available or selling preloaded boxes.
What do we think?
The makers of Kodi are right to offer support for DRM, for two reasons. First, many Kodi users rely on its simplicity, and DRM means you don’t have to keep switching between apps. Supporting paid-for subscriptions means Kodi can remain your one-stop shop for streaming video and make watching TV shows and films as easy as possible.
Second, it’s true that Kodi is seen as linked to piracy, and offering support for paid-for streams such as Netflix could help change that reputation. If Kodi is only used for pirated content, it’s hard to argue that it’s not facilitating dodgy streaming, but if it’s also used for watching paid-for, legal content, the case against it becomes weaker.
And that’s key with the Digital Economy Act coming into force. The developers behind Kodi argue their system is no different than Firefox or Chrome – either of which can be used for piracy, but weren’t designed for it. Adding support for paid-for content, even if it requires this light, low-level support for DRM, helps Kodi make its case that it’s a legitimate piece of software, not a piracy platform.
Kodi clarified its position on DRM in a rather defensive blog post