If you have a local Facebook buy and sell group you have likely seen this situation unfold: someone advertises “free tv boxes” with big promises about free movie streaming, every television show you can possibly binge watch, and even live TV channels where you can enjoy live sporting events. The promises are big and, inevitably, people have a lot of questions. One of the main questions is always, “Is this legal?”
Of course those “free tv boxes” are media boxes running Android that have been pre-programmed to be the ultimate Kodi streaming boxes. Sellers will buy the boxes online for anywhere from $30 to $100 each, depending on the features included, then load up the devices with every Kodi addon they can think of. Once that is done, they flip the pre-programmed boxes for a pretty nice profit. It would be a decent business plan if it didn’t raise so many eyebrows. So, what is the legality regarding these Kodi streaming boxes?
The honest answer is: no one really knows right now.
Like any law, the interpretation or even the mere existence of the law will vary from region to region. What is true in the United States may not be true in Germany and things may be entirely different in the UK. With that in mind, let me try to give a run down of the current state of Kodi streaming.
First of all, it should be noted that Kodi itself is a perfectly legal program. There are plenty of legitimate, legal uses for Kodi. This question of legality doesn’t actually concern Kodi itself but rather the addons used to stream programming and the sale of boxes advertised to circumvent paid viewing methods.
Let’s talk about addons first. When people talk about Kodi streaming they are often talking about using one of the many Kodi addons that can stream any television show or movie on demand. Anyone with the technical know how can build an addon for Kodi. Some addons have recently come under fire with legal action or the threat of legal action persuading them to shut down. In Canada, my home country, the person behind the TVAddons repo had their home raided and is facing legal action thanks to a complaint from Canada’s largest telecom companies. The popular streaming addon, Exodus, shut down because of threats of legal action.
Many of these cases are still ongoing but the major theme that the legal complaints are based on is that these services give people a way to access paid content for free. TVAddons gives people access to popular addons like the now-defunct Exodus that pull together streams of popular television shows and movies. The cost of this to the end user is $0. Obtained through legal methods, people would be expected to pay whether that is in the form of a cable subscription, Netflix subscription, iTunes rental, or good old fashioned buying a DVD at the store. Basically, according to legal arguments, these people are stealing content and giving others easy and free access to this content.
The reality is much more complicated than that. Let’s look at the TVAddons case as an example. The defendant in that case does not actually host any pirated material or even build software that allows people to directly access that material. All he does is host a repository of available addons, some of which may give users access to pirated content. Again, that’s still an overly simplistic explanation of things but we want to be a little more nuanced than just saying, “This service lets people stream pirated movies.”
So, TVAddons is a repository; we get that. Their legal battle is just beginning. What about the addons that people actually use to stream content that may be pirated? Are they illegal? The legal action against some of the biggest and most popular addons would seem to suggest that someone thinks what they’re doing is illegal but I can sue my neighbor for having an unkempt front yard; the lawsuit itself doesn’t mean he’s guilty of anything. The way many addons work is by providing users with an interface and backbone to find content. For example, if I search for “South Park” then the addon I am using will scrape the sources it knows about to find me a variety of links for the latest South Park episode. The actual hosting of the episode is on one of the many websites listed as a result of my search. Does pointing someone in the direction of a stream constitute as an illegal action? Again, this exact issue is before the courts right now in countries around the world.
Now, let’s consider the Android boxes that are often advertised as “free tv boxes.” Are these boxes illegal? No. Well, not the boxes themselves. When these boxes are sold they are basically just a cheap media player running a version of Android. I have a Xiaomi MiBox beside my TV; I purchased it off the shelf at WalMart and not in some dark alley. There are plenty of legitimate uses for these boxes including streaming Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and using any of the thousands of Android apps available for the television.
The problem arises when these boxes are loaded with software that is able to stream paid content for free and marketed as “free tv boxes.” When people market these boxes as ways to get around paying for content they are essentially advertising their intent to help you steal and providing you with the means to do so. There is a difference between buying a factory default Android box and loading it with the apps you want and buying an Android box loaded to the gills with apps and addons that have the explicit goal of helping you circumvent legal methods of enjoying content.
The selling of these so-called free tv boxes is one area that does not seem to be in a legal grey area. Several countries around the world have been cracking down on people who sell these boxes. Like I mentioned before, I live in Canada. We are very lax here about pirated content. Unless you are seeding torrents then the chances you will have legal action taken against you are slim to none. However, people who are selling these boxes online and in local buy and sell groups have been targeted by law enforcement. Perhaps they are the easy target? In any case, it has not slowed down the sale of these boxes. It took me literally 5 seconds to find this post on a Facebook group I am a part of:
The worst part about these boxes is the price. That listing showed the box for $120 – probably 3x the original cost of the box that’s readily available online. An $80 increase to install free software available to anyone with an internet connection? They should go to jail just for ripping people off.
So, to answer the original question… Is Kodi streaming legal? Yes… And no. First, it depends on where you live. Some places are cracking down on illegal streamers while other places seem to be turning a blind eye to individual users. If you are concerned about legal action being taken against you for streaming then use a VPN or use 100%, sure-fire legal streaming methods. However, if you are planning on building an addon or selling “free tv boxes” that help people access free content then I would re-think your plans. Clearly the people being targeted by most of the legal cases are people who sell pre-programmed Android boxes and people who provide the addons by which people do their free streaming.
For now, you’re likely safe to enjoy Kodi and the many addons available. But, admittedly, the whole thing is a grey area. If you don’t need the kind of rush of adrenaline that comes with streaming Game of Thrones for free then pony up the extra money and pay for HBO.