MPAA: Dealing With Kodi is the $64,000 Question

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While torrent sites have been a thorn in the side of the MPAA for more than a decade, there's a new kid on the block. Speaking at the Berlin Film Festival, MPAA chief Chris Dodd cited the growing use of the Kodi platform for piracy, describing the problem as the "$64,000 question."

Since around 2003, torrent sites have plagued the MPAA. Hydra-like in their ability to withstand all kinds of attacks, from legal onslaughts to domain blocking, torrent platforms are still going strong today.

However, what BitTorrent lacks in its standard form is a living-room friendly interface. Regular torrent clients are functional at best, uninviting at worst, and lack the colorful Netflix-style interface demanded by today’s sophisticated media consumer.

At least to some extent, the advent of Popcorn Time solved that particular problem for pirates, but the software still performs better in the desktop environment, despite its ability to run on portable devices. Kodi, on the other hand, is a different beast altogether.

This entirely legal piece of media-playing software is equally at home running on a PC, tablet, mobile phone, or crucially, an Android-powered set-top box or stick. As a result and thanks to its colorful interface, Kodi is now a central entertainment component of millions of homes.

Kodi has always had an enthusiastic following, but its ability to run third-party addons has turned this media player into a piracy goliath. Users are understandably delighted by its ability to bring all kinds of video media directly into their homes, at zero cost. Those that make the media are less enthusiastic.

Legal battles over the misuse of the platform are ongoing, mainly in the UK and the Netherlands, where test cases have the ability to clarify the legal position, at least for sellers of so-called “fully loaded” devices.

Interestingly, up until now, the MPAA has stayed almost completely quiet, despite a dramatic rise in the use of Kodi for illicit streaming. Yesterday, however, the silence was broken.

In an interview with Variety during the Berlin Film Festival, MPAA chief Chris Dodd described the Kodi-with-addons situation as “new-generation piracy”.

“The $64,000 question is what can be done about such illegal use of the Kodi platform,” Dodd said.

While $64,000 is a tempting offer, responding to that particular question with a working solution will take much more than that. Indeed, one might argue that dealing with it in any meaningful way will be almost impossible.

First of all, Kodi is open source and has been since its inception in 2002. As a result, trying to target the software itself would be like stuffing toothpaste back in a tube. It’s out there, it isn’t coming back, and pissing off countless developers is extremely ill-advised.

Secondly, the people behind Kodi have done absolutely nothing wrong. Their software is entirely legal and if their public statements are to be believed, they’re as sick of piracy as the entertainment companies are.

The third problem is how Kodi itself works. While to the uninitiated it looks like one platform, a fully-modded ‘pirate’ Kodi setup can contain many third-party addons, each capable of aggregating content from dozens or even hundreds of sites. Not even the mighty MPAA can shut them all down, and even if it could, more would reappear later. It’s the ultimate game of whac-a-mole.

To give an example, Chris Dodd mentioned that the movie “Bridge of Spies” had 160 sources on a Kodi setup and to anyone familiar with how these things work, that is not an unusual position for the most popular content. For hosts based in the US and Europe, a takedown/staydown regime might help a little, but there is plenty of opposition (1,2,3) and a long time to go before anything like that could be put in place.

That being said, indirectly the problem is already being addressed. Due to the way content is pulled from the web, tackling Kodi piracy is in many ways the same as tackling any infringing web-based content. As a result, many regimes already in place (site-blocking, DMCA notices, etc) are already part of the solution, at least if the studios’ claims on effectiveness are to be believed.

On the consumer front, things are even more complex and indeed bleak. Despite a flood of mainstream UK news sites falsely claiming the opposite in recent weeks, people using Kodi setups to stream content won’t be the subject of warning notices from their ISPs. Only peer-to-peer systems like BitTorrent can be tackled this way, so contacting pirating users directly to “educate” them will be almost impossible.

Overall then, the present Kodi situation is more like a $64,000,000 question, and one that won’t be answered quickly, despite the price.


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