Sunday, May 28

What is Kodi and is it legal?

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Technology is an ever expanding field, be it in science, banking, entertainment or transportation, to name just a few. In the modern world, television programmes are available on demand at the click of a button and films can be watched with ease. It could even be suggested that the development of websites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video are used more often than DVDs and perhaps even reduce the number of cinema visits.

An increasingly popular development is Kodi, an ‘…award-winning free and open source (GDL) software media centre for playing videos, music, pictures, games and more… It allows users to play and view most videos, podcasts and other digital media files from local and network storage media and the internet…’.

There have been suggestions that, ‘thousands [of people]are turning to Kodi for their streaming of sport, TV and films.’ Despite this, questions have been raised as to how much longer devices such as Kodi will be legal for, especially if they are being used for more than their intended purpose.

Amazon Fire TV Sticks are said to be amongst, ‘the most common source of Kodi due to their low costs and easy retail accessibility’. This has caused speculation as to whether their ability to host Kodi, for example, is the reason why Amazon Fire TV Sticks are out of stock in a number of areas. Furthermore, on Amazon’s own website, the Fire TV Sticks labelled ‘previous generation’ (most probably due to the release of a new Fire TV Stick in April) are ‘currently unavailable…’

However, despite their suggested use as a source for Kodi, Amazon, ‘may have simply decided to discontinue the one they’ve now labelled as “previous generation” on their website.’

Even with this suggested influx in popularity of Kodi, it has still been described as a ‘huge grey area.’ Although the boxes are ‘effectively’ legal, prosecutors have claimed that devices that are pre-loaded or altered, in order to watch PPV content like films that are currently in the cinema for example, are illegal.

The level of uncertainty regarding their legality has increased, especially following the recent landmark case of a trader being taken to court regarding the legality of the devices. The case involves Mr Brian Thompson, a resident of Middlesbrough who is facing allegations of selling pre-loaded Kodi or Android boxes. The trial of Mr. Thompson is expected to start on the 8th May after he entered not guilty pleas at Teesside Magistrates’ Court. It has been reported that, ‘…even if he loses the trial, Brian has already said he intends to fight any decision – even hinting he could take the fight to Europe.’

Similar cases have also been heard. Recently, ‘in what was thought to be the first sentencing of its kind’, a man received a four year jail sentence for conspiracy to defraud. Mr. O’Reilly received the sentence for selling over 1,000 boxes to pubs who used them illegally to stream Premier League football. Following this judgment, Premier League Director of Legal Services, Kevin Plumb, stated:

“The Courts have provided a clear message: this is against the law and selling systems which allow people to watch unauthorised Premier League broadcasts is a form of mass piracy and is sufficiently serious to warrant custodial sentence… There can now be no doubt for consumers that these systems are illegal.”

However, not everyone is in support of the fight against illegal streaming and according to a number of reports, there is a sign in the front window of Dr Brown’s (a pub) in support of Mr. Thompson, ‘warning that anybody from those firms – who are leading the fight against pubs illegally streaming live footy – will face legal action if they set foot inside.’ Including, the FA, Sky, BT, the Premier League or its “servants”. In addition, it states, “Any entrance by the above will be considered as trespass and as such any information gained would be by default.”

A spokeswoman for the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) stated that:

“A consumer may think ‘football clubs make millions, films make millions so why shouldn’t we do this? What people don’t probably realise is the impact it has on the thousands of jobs behind the scenes in the creative and sports industries; from the carpenters making the film and TV sets, the costume designers, special effect artists, the camera men and women and grounds people at football clubs… If people continue to illegally stream and avoid making a contribution to the cost of creating the film and so on, then it will have an affect on people’s livelihoods and the future of TV, sport and film in general.”

The police are also ‘cracking down’ on the illegal use of boxes such as Kodi. Recently, a multi-agency crackdown comprising of FACT, Greater Manchester Police, City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) led to the arrests of five people on Wednesday 8th February 2017, with ‘fully-loaded illegal TV set-top devices… seized at the homes of the five suspects.’ According to FACT, ‘collectively it is believed the suspects have made in the region of £250,000 across social media, online forums, as well as their own dedicated websites.’

Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, stated:

“Profiting from illegal streaming is completely unacceptable. The UK’s creative industries are a national asset that must be protected…”

Furthermore, Kieron Sharp, Director General of FACT, stated:

“Today’s day of action should send out a clear warning to anyone involved in the sale and distribution of illegal set-top boxes that law enforcement and industry take this matter very seriously. Set-top boxes loaded with apps and add-ons allowing access to copyright infringing material are very much illegal and anyone involved in selling these boxes should not be surprised to receive a knock on the door.”

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Freya is from Preston in Lancashire and joined Legal Loop in June 2016.

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