Kodi boxes have been in the headlines in recent weeks with the authorities cracking down on illegal streaming sites. But the rules are blurred around what is legal and what is illegal when it comes to the devices. As reported in the Bristol Post five people have been arrested for selling “fully loaded” Kodi boxes.
As a result many people are asking whether they are breaking the law if they own the devices.
The UK Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), a trade organisation established to protect and represent the interests of intellectual property, has clarified the situation.
Is it legal?
The software itself is not illegal, nor is it illegal to sell devices with Kodi pre-installed on them.
However, many of these Kodi devices come pre-loaded with third party plug-ins and add-ons that allow users to stream pirated content to their TV.
Selling these “fully loaded” TV set-top devices is a breach of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988.
Individuals involved in this crime may also be breaking the Fraud Act, and be charged with Money Laundering offences, according to FACT.
Who is the crackdown targeting?
The latest crackdown by FACT, Greater Manchester Police, City of London Police and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is targeting those involved in the sale and distribution of these illegal “fully loaded” devices.
FACT’s priority is to “disrupt and combat individuals manufacturing, importing, selling and re-selling these illegal devices”.
While the end user is not a target, they could get swept up in one of FACT’s operations, and could become part of the whole criminal investigation, the organisation said.
Of course, this doesn’t stop people from buying “clean” Kodi boxes, and then downloading the copyright infringing add-ons themselves.
Many people also download the Kodi media player onto another TV streaming device – such as a Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick – and install the plug-ins from there.
What are the penalties?
The penalties for sellers are high – it could result in time behind bars.
In December 2016, Terry O’Reilly was sentenced to four years imprisonment for selling illegal set-top TV boxes, a prosecution brought by the Premier League with support from FACT.
What about me?
FACT claims, “If you are accessing premium pay-for content, like Sky, BT Sport and Virgin Media, and you do not have a subscription with an official provider then this is unlawful access”.
However, it is unclear exactly what law you would be breaking.
If you were to download an illegally copied file, that would constitute copyright infringement. However, when you stream something online, the file is stored only temporarily on your computer – and temporary copies are exempt from copyright laws.
In a landmark ruling in 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that internet users who look at copyrighted material online aren’t breaking the law by doing so, citing Article 5.1 of the EU Copyright Directive.
It stated copies of copyrighted material which appear “on the users computer 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”.
Morally, of course, it’s a completely different matter.
Anyone accessing content from a pirate site is involving themselves in unlawful behaviour, often putting money into the hands of criminals.
They are also undermining the legitimate sale of subscription TV services, which employ tens of thousands of people in the UK, and whose contributions are key to the creative and sporting industries.
Furthermore, accessing illegal sites can leave your computer vulnerable to viruses and other harmful content.
What is Kodi doing to prevent illegal streaming?
We weren’t able to get hold of anyone from Kodi to discuss the steps the company is taking to prevent its media player from being used for illegal streaming.
In the past, the company has maintained an officially neutral stance on what users do with their own software.
“Kodi is open source software, and as long as the GPL (General Public License) is followed, you are welcome to do with it as you like,” Kodi Product Manager Nathan Betzen told TorrentFreak last year.
“While we don’t love this use of Kodi, as long as you know what illegal and potentially dangerous things you are getting yourself into and accept the fact that the Team will not be providing you with any support, then you are welcome to do what you like.”
However, the company is going after sellers who use the Kodi trademark to flog fully-loaded set-top boxes without permission.
“We will issue trademark takedown notices anywhere we think the likelihood for confusion is high,” said Betzen.
“If you are selling a box on your website designed to trick users into thinking broken add-ons come from us and work perfectly, so you can make a buck, we’re going to do everything we can to stop you.”