KODI’S DRM BOMBSHELL

Will it block your favourite con­tent?

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What hap­pened?

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

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