You’ve learned a lot about them, but what is a Kodi box anyway? And how legal is it? Here we clarify everything you need to understand about Kodi and whether or not you should buy one.
A Teesside man was arrested in autumn 2016 for selling fully loaded Kodi boxes – an internet player that allows you to choose content from blockbuster movies to live Premier League football.
This sparked a debate across Europe about the legality of the boxes. Unfortunately, this is a complicated issue for customers surrounding what is essentially a very helpful and intuitive way to enjoy digital media and content on demand. Let’s start from the beginning.
What is Kodi?
Kodi can best be defined as a media centre. It actually started out as XBMC or Xbox Media Center for the first time. It is basically a versatile media player available for various platforms that allows users to play locally stored documents such as videos and music and stream live broadcasts and podcasts from the internet. Unlike Windows Media Player, for example, which you’ll find on your PC, it has a user-friendly, intuitive interface and is extremely customisable – that’s what really sets it apart from its competitors. Rather than spending time and bandwidth downloading large files, the fact that you can simply stream what you want to watch is also a huge draw.
A “Kodi box” is a loose term for an internet TV box that is primarily intended to be used with the Kodi app. Usually they are sold pre-installed with the app – often called “fully loaded”. Technically, any TV streamer that can install the app can be a Kodi box, but when the word is used in the press and media, it usually refers to the legally dubious first type.
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Is Kodi lawful?
The problem with Kodi is that it’s a wonderfully flexible and easy-to-use software, but it can also be used for illegal streaming. For example, subscribed sports and movie packages are just a few clicks and a quick download away – all without paying. The reason arrests were made is not only because people were selling Kodi boxes, but also because they were selling them pre-installed with these illegal programs and services.
Simply put: Kodi and Kodi boxes are perfectly legal. The problem arises when the Kodi app is used to illegally stream content from subscriptions. This is obviously something you should not do. And when you take these apps that allow you to illegally stream and pre-install them on a streaming box before selling them as a free all-in-one – a worldwide streaming source? That’s when it gets huge.
What was controlled on Kodi so far
European Court of Justice: Kodi boxes fully loaded are illegal
Perhaps the biggest decision is the one from Luxembourg. The EU’s highest court ruled that “the sale of a multimedia player that allows movies illegally available on the Internet to be viewed easily and free of charge on a TV screen” is illegal.
This is a ruling with huge implications for Kodi’s future. While it is clearly illegal to download a pirated film at home, the European Court of Justice has ruled that devices that enable piracy and make it easy are also illegal.
High Court: UK Premier League gets a court order for piracy
It may sound obvious, but if you haven’t paid for a subscription, it’s illegal to stream Premier League football online. However, in a recent court case, the Premier League was able to actively pursue and disable individual pirates.
Although there has long been illegal internet streaming of football, Kodi boxes offer people an easy way to watch football on their TV, rather than just on a laptop or at their desk. In this High Court ruling, their increased popularity was seen as the driving factor.
The Premier League now has the right to track and block the servers used to broadcast their matches. It can be expected that a number of other rights holders, such as film studios and television networks, will seek to do the same when the Premier League wins this case.
Amazon: Total ban on the sale of Kodi boxes completely loaded
Amazon has banned the sale of all fully loaded boxes as a result of the aforementioned court cases and the increasingly negative press surrounding them. The distributor said: ‘Products made available for sale on Amazon must not encourage, propose to facilitate or actively enable the infringement of, or unauthorised access to, digital media or other protected material’. Anyone caught selling Kodi boxes that violate Amazon’s laws will have their accounts suspended. Although these boxes were sold through Amazon’s store owners and not by Amazon itself, there is clearly no desire to be associated with them or to provide a platform that could potentially violate the law.
What can you do with Kodi legally?
Despite all the negative press the app has received lately, you don’t have to be afraid of it. If you own a known internet streaming box, like Amazon Fire TV or Nvidia Shield, you can download the app from their official website. It also works on any computer running Android, iOS, Windows, Mac or Linux.
You can then choose from a wide range of legal add-ons, all of which are available in the larger Kodi app. There are literally hundreds to choose from. YouTube, SoundCloud, Twitch, PBS and 9GAG are all available, which is great if your streaming box doesn’t offer them through its regular app store.
What has Kodi to say
When discussing this ongoing drama, it is often forgotten that the word “kodi box” has no concrete meaning. Kodi is just a popular app that opens up a range of streaming applications not available in the Google Play or Amazon app stores. There are plenty of perfectly legal applications in it that are used to access free content.
These illegal streamers got due to the temporary label, an honest service running at the bottom. The employees who developed the Kodi app published a statement explaining this on their official website. They say they are fed up with “unfortunate sellers” who use the name of their app to “create a quick profit”.
Team Kodi has a formally neutral stance on what users do with their own software. While we don’t love the use of Kodi, you’re welcome to do whatever you want, as long as you know what illegal and potentially dangerous things you’re getting into and accept that the team won’t give you any help.
Their option was to trademark the name “Kodi” and actively follow those who use it to promote their own legally dubious products.
Although Kodi is currently in the spotlight, it is far from the only implementation of its kind. Here are a few options that might be of interest to jaded supporters or those curious to try something new:
Plex is a media server that allows you to organise your music, photos and videos in one place and stream them to a variety of devices, such as a TV, smartphone, tablet or web TV box. It’s not as common as Kodi, perhaps because it requires a local computer to run a Plex media server. This means you’ll need to sync your preferred streaming device with your home computer (or laptop or network-enabled storage device) to install and access all your media via your home network. However, this gives you synchronised content on all your devices, which can be very convenient.
If you own an Amazon Echo, one of Plex’s most interesting features is that it’s now compatible with Alexa voice control so you can play music and movies without touching a remote. There’s also a premium subscription service for Plex that offers features like cloud storage and offline access.
In fact, there is not much difference between Plex and Emby. Emby has a very good Xbox One app and works well on smartphones, but the bulk of it is no different from Plex – right down to the premium subscription service. The decision here will be more about personal preference than outstanding features, but it’s worth trying each one out.
There are many comparable options out there that are a cut below Plex, Emby and Kodi. Stremio works like a PVR and gives you a calendar that keeps track of your tracked shows’ recent episodes and the ability to continue watching shows mid-stream on another device. It’s also defined as more tailored for PC users by its designers, rather than for those who want a ‘couch experience’.
While the other choices on this list are very flexible in terms of support for different equipment and operating systems, Usher is tailored for MacOS consumers.
When it comes to working with non-Apple software and hardware, iTunes can be notoriously stubborn, so Usher can be very helpful in this scenario.
How to prove the lawfulness of your streamer
If you’re downloading Kodi to your Amazon Fire TV Stick or Nvidia Shield, for example, you don’t need to worry, because you’re allowed to do so. But where caution should be exercised is what applications and services you use in it.
If an app seems too nice to be true, it probably is – if it lets you watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters without paying, that’s a pretty strong indicator. If you’re looking to buy a TV streaming box and it’s not made by a company you recognize, it’s not sold by a retailer you recognize, or if you use the terms “Kodi” and “fully loaded” in the title, that’s another red flag (Kodi is not a manufacturer – none of these boxes are crazy at all).