Streaming has become the preferred way for pirates to enjoy movies and TV-shows which, unwittingly, boosted the profile of the Kodi media center.
The term “Kodi” often shows up in piracy-related headlines and was even banned by Amazon’s app store and removed from Google’s autocomplete suggestions for its links to copyright infringement.
Those who don’t know better may think that Kodi itself is illegal but that’s certainly not the case. The bad reputation is the result of dozens of unofficial addons and builds, which can turn the software into a piracy tool, something the Kodi team can do little about.
While this is well-known to insiders, the people behind Kodi are faced with the piracy stigma pretty much every day. Questions like “is Kodi legal” are often asked and this week the Kodi team makes an effort to answer this question as clearly as it can.
Kodi’s Darren Hill notes that the piracy associations are in large part driven by sources that fail to make the distinction between the Kodi media center and third-party addons. Kodi itself doesn’t offer access to pirated media, but third-party addons can.
“Due to various 3rd party addons, the app has gained an unwanted reputation as being a way to get movies and TV shows for free. This is not helped at all by certain unscrupulous websites and YouTube bloggers who encourage and perpetuate the myth, simply to increase their traffic from web users and earn more cash from the site sponsors,” Hill writes.
Indeed, Kodi related searches on either Google or YouTube return plenty of results that feature its ‘piracy’ capabilities, which are of great interest to a certain audience. On YouTube, there are entire channels dedicated to Kodi piracy, which get millions of views.
The Kodi team isn’t happy with this situation. They stress that their media player is meant to play people’s locally stored media files or to use any of the Kodi-vetted addons. There are no piracy traces or options in the default software.
“As we supply it, Kodi is totally legal,” Hill clarifies.
People who do want to use third-party addons have the option to do so. However, this capability is disabled by default. Those who enable it, do it at their own risk, which, based on the usage numbers, millions of people are willing to take.
That begs the question. If third-party addons are causing all this trouble, why not ban them altogether?
While that seems like a simple step, it’s also one that goes against the very nature of the Kodi project. The Kodi team informs TorrentFreak that it believes in an open ecosystem, much like Android and Windows. Especially since Kodi itself is open-source software (OSS).
“Similar to how Android allows you to install any APK, which can provide 3rd party store access we have a similar belief/idea,” Kodi’s Keith Herrington tells us.
“Our purpose isn’t to be a gatekeeper of how folks use our software. Most OSS is designed to remove these restrictions and barriers to entry, leveling the playing field so anyone can utilize technology how they wish to see it,” he adds.
The intention was never to make Kodi a ‘consumable’ product, although it can be. As an open ecosystem, it’s first and foremost something others can build upon and enjoy. It’s a breeding ground for developers, many of whom contribute to the project.
That there are bad actors is a given by now. Theoretically, Kodi could restrict ‘unsigned’ addons but it doesn’t believe that there’s a safe and constructive manner to do so. Other have tried this, but often without success.
“Google has tried, failed, and then gave up on this, so if a billion-dollar+ company can’t figure this out, I doubt our loosely organized group of volunteers doing this all for fun can, either,” Herrington says.
The last part is something most people forget. Kodi is created and supported by volunteers – it’s not a for-profit operation. While many outsiders have built businesses, legal or not, based on the software, those who code and support the media center do it for free. And people promoting piracy addons are ruining Kodi’s image in the process.
“It’s sad how many ‘social media influencers’ think they’ve ‘helped us’ in some way, by getting us ‘more followers’. That isn’t how this works,” Herrington notes. “Nobody is paid here. Many others are making money off the backs of our hard work, and its a struggle, and it sucks to see how the media treats us.”
The Kodi team does accept donations and every now and then users send over $5 or $10, or even a bit more. This helps the core team to meet up and go to conferences and pay for administrative costs, but not much more than that.
In fact, while we are writing this piece the main Kodi website is down because its “sponsor” Acquia pulled the plug as it was using too many resources. One dedicated server can easily run the website, but apparently that’s already a challenge to get.
Coming back to the third-party addon issue, Kodi’s Darren Hill informs TorrentFreak that the team believes in freedom of choice. Kodi shouldn’t police its users, nor does it intend to.
“We specifically do not tell the user what to do and how to use Kodi, that should be up to them. All we ask is that their choice is an enlightened one, and they fully understand what they are doing. Equally, if there are any repercussions from their actions, then those too are entirely their responsibility,” Hill says.
That outsiders are hurting Kodi’s image is unfortunate, but that doesn’t stop the team from continuing its work. While some rightsholders have threatened legal action, there’s also a growing group that’s better informed and doesn’t blame the media center.
Just recently, the Copyright Alliance made this pretty clear in a submission to the US Customs and Border Protection Bureau.
“While the Kodi system itself is a legitimate media center, the system is open source – meaning that just about anybody can use the device’s original blueprint to create software that configures Kodi boxes to access illegal streams of films and shows that are available online – and unfortunately, they do,” the group wrote.
So, while the Kodi team cautions users to be aware of unlawful third-party addons it’s not going to try to ban them anytime soon. Instead, it will focus on making the media center better. That includes the official addon library, which can use some extra addons.
“We hope someday our curated addon repo will be so good and have so much content that everything a user could want would be available. This is not the case today. We’ve made great strides with our PVR addons, but we’d love to work with any content provider out there, and hope more will reach out,” Kodi’s Keith Herrington concludes.