Kodi set-top boxes: what are they and could I get in trouble for using one?

Kodi has been clocking up plenty of column inches due to the crackdown on the sale of pre-loaded TV set-top boxes containing premium content.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 16th February 2017, 12:21 pm
Updated Wednesday, 1st March 2017, 8:08 am
Premium content such as subscription sports channels can be streamed using Kodi software. Picture: Shutterstock.
Premium content such as subscription sports channels can be streamed using Kodi software. Picture: Shutterstock.

For those unfamiliar with the most popular media app of the moment - and perhaps thinking about buying a Kodi box - here’s everything you need to know.

What is Kodi?

Kodi is a piece of free software that plays media - movies, TV shows, videos, games, photos, music and more.

You can run Kodi through any computer, smartphone or tablet in order to stream files from the internet. Kodi can also be installed on a set-top box which can plug directly into your TV.

Which operating systems is Kodi compatible with?

There are versions for Windows, Macs, Android and Apple phones and tablets.

Where can I get Kodi?

You can download it freely from the Android and Windows stores, and from Kodi’s own website.

Is it illegal?

In a word, no. The software itself is not illegal, nor is it illegal to sell devices with Kodi pre-installed on them.

The developers behind Kodi say their software does not contain any content of its own and is designed to play legally owned media or content "freely available" on the internet.

So why all the controversy?

Many of the Kodi devices come pre-loaded with unlicensed add-ons and apps which then allow users to illegally stream content to their TV.

It is the selling of these "fully-loaded" boxes that copyright owners are objecting to - indeed, last week five people were arrested across the UK as part of a crackdown on "fully-loaded" Kodi boxes.

What are the implications of those arrests?

In a nutshell, this will be the first time that the legality of Kodi customisation will be heard in a British court and, as such, it could have huge ramifications for the software’s future in the UK.

The case, it must be said, is not about whether Kodi add-ons which blatantly ignore copyright are illegal (they most certainly are), but instead is to determine whether someone selling a Kodi box with these add-ons pre-installed can be prosecuted and face possible prison sentences.

What’s happening in pubs?

There has been cases of pubs using Kodi boxes to illegally stream Premier League football matches and other live sporting events - but doing so is serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence.

Last year, bosses at the Navigation pub in Middlesbrough were fined £8,000 after being caught streaming Boro matches through a Kodi box.

The penalties for sellers tough then?

Very. The penalties for sellers are high - and could result in time behind bars.

In December 2016, Terry O'Reilly was sentenced to four years imprisonment for selling illegal set-top TV boxes, a prosecution brought by the Premier League with support from FACT, the UK's leading intellectual property protection organisation, specialising in digital content, intellectual property (IP) and brand protection.

So the Premier League are pleased about raids on landlords?

For sure.

Premier League Director of Legal Services, Kevin Plumb, said: “FACT has done an excellent job coordinating these raids with the appropriate authorities.

"Like other sports and creative industries, the Premier League’s model is predicated on the ability to market and sell rights and protect its intellectual property. It is because of this that clubs can invest in star players and managers, and world class stadiums – the very things fans enjoy about our competition.

"These raids follow a recent case we brought that saw a supplier of IPTV devices which enable mass piracy of Premier League football sent to prison for four years. It was the first case of its type and the fact police are now targeting and arresting others selling similar devices is further evidence for consumers that they are illegal."

What do the makers of Kodi have to say?

The developers behind Kodi insist they do not support “piracy add-ons” and have hit out at those who advertise “fully-loaded” set-top boxes for sale.

The group maintain a “neutral stance on what users do with their own software”, but will take action against those who use the Kodi trademark to sell a “fully-loaded Kodi box”.

What does the Government have to say about Kodi?

Jo Johnson, minister of state for universities, science, research and Innovation, praised the crackdown on the sale and distribution of illegal TV set-top devices.

"Profiting from illegal streaming is completely unacceptable. The UK's creative industries are a national asset that must be protected," he said.