Kodi is a free and open-source media streaming software that of late is getting embroiled in many tricky legal questions. In this article, we’ll be going through some of these questions to see if using Kodi is legal.
First off, let’s understand this software a little before moving on. If you’re not particularly interested in the legalities behind Kodi and just want to enjoy watching your favorite shows, check out our full Kodi guide.
Kodi is used as a general term to describe many of the abilities of the application, but the software itself only performs one function, allowing you to import, organize and view your personal media library. It grew from the Xbox Media Center, which was first developed in 2004.
One decade and many ports later Kodi was born, beginning with version 14 and growing rapidly since. The software has continued to improve through partnerships with developers and donations of money and time from the community.
This evolution is essential as it provides a road map of legality when speaking about Kodi. On its own, Kodi is merely a front end media server and is a very useful tool without any additions. Many users, such as those running a Raspberry Pi, lack options when choosing a media center, so Kodi becomes a very interesting option.
So, to answer the short question, Kodi is entirely legal. The application itself meddles in no questionable areas of the law. This doesn’t mean everything you do with it is legal, though, but that’s the second part of the legal question.
Developers can create add-ons that aren’t officially supported by Kodi or the foundation behind it, as the application is completely open source. These unofficial add-ons don’t go through any kind of approval process and may sometimes not be entirely kosher.
Kodi & The Legality of Add-ons
A distinction needs to be made between Kodi and the add-ons installed on it. Understanding what’s what is essential in knowing where you stand legally.
Add-ons are user-developed additions to the software that make possible anything that can be written into code. The XBMC Foundation provides an official repository of these add-ons that are completely legal. Some great add-ons like YouTube and SoundCloud can be found there, but that’s not what most are looking for when using Kodi.
XBMC allows users to distribute their own add-ons as well, and these often sit in the darker area of the legal spectrum. Add-ons such as Covenant and Elysium allow you to stream pirated content, cutting into the revenue of those producing it.
Let’s compare it to something that many people are familiar with: torrenting. You have the ability to download copyrighted content through torrents, but the applications you torrent with, such as uTorrent, are not themselves illegal.
The same is true for Kodi: any illegal content you stream is exactly that, illegal, while the base application remains completely legal. As of now, no lawsuits have been brought against Kodi users. That’s not to say there has never been any Kodi-linked legal trouble, however.
When Kodi is Illegal
Kodi has only been featured in a court of law when certain criteria were met. While lawsuits haven’t hit users directly yet, a few Kodi-related suits have been filed. Looking at one such case helps expose what aspects of Kodi are being targeted and which aren’t.
Malcolm Mayes, for example, began selling “fully loaded” Kodi boxes to pubs around Teesside, UK for £1,000 each ($1400 or so), targeting businesses who wanted to stream games live. Mayes marketed this business through advertisements in a national magazine, claiming the boxes were 100 percent legal. That wasn’t true, and Mayes was taken to court by the authorities, eventually settling on a paying a massive £250,000 fee.
The authorities built the case around the marketing and sale of the boxes. Because Mayes generated revenue with the unofficial add-ons, he took money away from those who should have been making it.
UK users may have trouble in the future, even though the buyers in the Mayes case didn’t have suits brought against them. The UK passed the Digital Economy Act in February of last year, where Kodi users could be tried and imprisoned for up to 10 years for streaming copyrighted content. While nothing significant has been brought forth, the law still stands, leaving UK Kodi users in hot water.
The laws get very messy when moving over the Atlantic. The U.S. and Canada have copyright laws, but none which apply directly to Kodi. Obtaining and storing copyrighted content illegitimately is illegal, even for personal use, but streaming it is not.
All unofficial add-ons that stream copyrighted content merely act as search engines for other sites, middlemen, serving up the stream but not officially storing it. Because of that, they are completely legal and cannot be pursued directly in the States.
In short, Kodi is still legal, and even the unofficial add-ons that promote piracy are legal, but the pirated content itself is not legal. Kodi is operating through a loophole, so the future of the platform is uncertain.
The U.S. is certainly not against taking moves against this kind of practice. The recent vote on net neutrality, for example, shows interests more in ISPs and less in users. Further exploiting may roll out, allowing legal action against those who stream copyrighted content in the States.
How to Protect Yourself
You need to protect yourself regardless of the current or future state of Kodi. ISPs still track your IP, and copyright lawyers still obtain the IPs of users that download or stream copyrighted content. If you want to avoid a notice in your mailbox, you need to sign up for a VPN.
A VPN keeps you anonymous online. American laws allow ISPs to track, store and share your IP address with others, meaning what you do online can always be noted. A VPN reroutes you, showing a different IP and making you virtually untraceable.
Furthermore, a VPN opens up the content spectrum on Kodi. Your IP address still holds you back from viewing geoblocked content, but a VPN bypasses this limitation and is essential, especially if you’re interested in watching anything live.
Using one is simply good practice. The small insurance policy keeps the copyright notices away, but also ensures that your information, which should be private, stays that way. As long as there is an option for anonymity, it’s best to use it.
Kodi is legal just like uTorrent is legal. Add-ons enable piracy just as many torrents do, but that doesn’t leave the application at fault. While the XBMC Foundation sits in hot water currently, it’s unlikely that a lawsuit would be brought forth holding any ground.
For now, use Kodi to its fullest extent, just make sure to have a VPN in place while doing so. For suggestions, read our best VPN for Kodi article. If you want more on the application, make sure to check out our Kodi archive. You’ll find tutorials for current users as well as several other Kodi-related articles.
Have you signed up for a VPN to use with Kodi? Let us know in the comments and, as always, thanks for reading.