Streaming Pirate Content Isn’t Illegal, UK Trading Standards Says

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Every day millions of people use PCs, tablets, phones and Kodi-style devices to stream pirated content, but is it illegal? According to Trading Standards, local UK authorities tasked with investigating commercial organizations, if users only stream and don't download, they're likely exempt from copyright law.

In online communities where piracy is discussed on a regular basis, several base questions continually raise their heads. What’s the best and quickest torrent client? What is the largest torrent site? Which streaming platforms get movies quickest?

But perhaps the most common questions asked, particularly by newcomers to the arena, surround the legality or otherwise of consuming media online without copyright holders’ permission.

With torrents (where the user not only downloads but also uploads) sharing copyrighted content is illegal in the majority of countries with strong copyright law, such as North America, Europe, Australia etc. There are plenty of cases that have ended badly for uploaders, hence the rise of VPNs.

These days, however, people are increasingly asking questions about streaming copyrighted content. Whether that’s to a PC, tablet, phone, or Kodi-type device, streaming is becoming increasingly popular and thus questions about legality are on the rise.

Streaming is without a doubt a safer option than using torrents since there is no uploading (distribution). Without this crucial element, it is almost impossible for a user to be tracked and if they can’t be tracked, they can’t be punished or even warned. It’s notable that the UK’s piracy warning scheme, for example, makes no attempt to reach people who are streaming content, because it’s impossible.

So, in practical terms (if people have no problem with potential ethical issues) streaming illegal content is almost 100% safe. No one has ever been prosecuted for merely streaming content and with the rise of Kodi devices (which almost exclusively employ streaming), it’s not difficult to see the problems faced by copyright holders.

Dozens of headlines in mainstream news articles suggest that people who misuse Kodi could get into trouble. But these articles often blur the distinction between sellers and users, where the former is probably breaking the law and the latter operates in a gray area. Interestingly, however, we now have a voice in authority daring to say what most anti-piracy outfits will not.

In an article discussing Kodi, Derbyshire Council Trading Standards begin by noting the problems faced by sellers.

“Kodi is a legitimate piece of software and the developers do not support its use for illegal purposes,” a spokesperson said.

“Derbyshire County Council trading standards officers believe it is illegal under copyright legislation to sell Kodi boxes installed with those add-ons that facilitate the illegal streaming of copyrighted material – although there are court cases pending elsewhere in the UK that will provide further clarification.”

However, most people aren’t sellers, they’re users, and according to Trading Standards, they likely have little to worry about, despite industry claims to the contrary.

“Accessing premium paid-for content without a subscription is considered by the industry as unlawful access, although streaming something online, rather than downloading a file, is likely to be exempt from copyright laws,” the spokesperson added.

This statement certainly carries some weight. Although in a different region of the UK, Trading Standards is the driving force behind the prosecution of Kodi box seller Brian Thompson who entered a not guilty plea in January. He’ll face a trial in a couple of months but it now seems more clear than ever that his customers and millions like them around the country are not breaking the law, a position that’s shared by the EU Commission.

But while people guzzle on the latest movies and sporting events for free, moves are underway to try and close these loopholes. In February the UK government launched a consultation into IPTV and Kodi-enable devices, to see how the law could be tightened up.

The consultation is in its very early stages but there appears to be an effort to target not only sellers but also end users under titles such as “fraudulent reception of transmissions” and “obtaining services dishonestly.” Only time will tell how this will play out but for now at least, it appears that Kodi and other streamers are being given the green light.

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