We need to have a serious talk about Kodi.
Whether you know it or not, you’ve heard about Kodi — either from friends in real life who love streaming free stuff and telling you about it, or by way of social network pals who promote the boxes that make it possible.
Even so, here’s a refresher: Though Kodi itself is well-intentioned software, it’s marketed by bad actors not associated with the company as the cord cutter’s free-for-all magic content machine.
Technically, Kodi is just a media center; it’s software that offers access to all your digital files: purchased or downloaded music, shows, movies and games. Like an internet browser, Kodi can also connect people to whatever web-based content they want to view on their smartphones and televisions.
Because the Kodi software is open source, third-party developers can and do build add-ons that serve as gateways that link people to troves of copyrighted files, which have been uploaded by anonymous online pirates.
The XBMC Foundation, which is the nonprofit technology consortium that developed the Kodi software, has banned these add-ons, making them difficult for the average person to find. But they’re out there.
Thus, an entire industry has emerged around folding the bad in with the good and simplifying the process of streaming anything you want — such as live sports, movies still in theaters, pay-per-view extras — free of charge.
There are, for instance, a number of Android box makers who sell devices that merge Kodi’s software with other software, ultimately making it easy to find any TV show, sporting event or movie.
Then there are your average Joes and Janes; our neighbors and acquaintances who buy dozens of off-the-shelf Amazon Fire TV sticks, add Kodi’s software to them and also preinstall the most popular pirate add-ons — say Exodus or Genesis. These so-called Kodi sticks are sold at a markup offline or through online classified sites.
“We keep a list of who [the good guys] are,” said Nathan Betzen, the president of XBMC Foundation. “But companies pop up over night, making it almost impossible to keep a list of the [bad actors].”
You can buy these infringing set-top boxes on Amazon, EBay and Facebook, and even find them at your neighborhood swap meet.
Roughly 6% of all households in North America have a Kodi device configured to access unlicensed content, according to a recent report published by Sandvine.
Before you, too, get sucked in by the proposition of free everything, I implore you to think about what you’re doing. I don’t mean to suggest that you should feel sorry for the world’s biggest entertainment brands that are, no doubt, losing money on work that cost millions to produce. Rather, it’s a matter of right versus wrong, and even kindergartners know it’s wrong to steal.
This is a subject that hits close to home.
When I met my husband, he was an active copyright infringer, using an Amazon Fire TV stick that he bought from a friend. It came pre-loaded with Kodi and popular pirate add-ons. At the time, the friend who sold him the device was making a nice side income converting standard streaming sticks into deliberate infringing devices. My husband even helped offload a few of these sticks to his friends and family members, who I’d like to assume were unaware of the implications of streaming free TV and movies.
No one was technically doing anything illegal — at least based on existing copyright laws, as courts have yet to determine where fault, or the actual act of copying a copyrighted file, takes place. But the players here are all messing around in a legal gray area.
As it stands, my husband’s old jimmy-rigged Fire TV stick has been replaced with a pair of standard Chromecast devices. We pay for YouTube TV, Netflix and Amazon Video (by way of Prime). And I can sleep at night knowing that we are not online pirates. My husband’s moral compass points in a slightly different direction, but he knows better than to challenge me on this subject.
The friend, meanwhile, is no longer in the picture. Even if he’s still up to the same antics, he’s not at risk of any repercussions, making this a morality tale with an anticlimactic ending.
Maybe things will change.
The XBMC Foundation is working with Amazon and EBay to remove listings for Kodi sticks and boxes that promise free TV.
“But that doesn't really mean anything,” Betzen said. “If you go to a local fair, there's always somebody selling one of these boxes for $300.”