Kodi (formerly XBMC) is increasing in popularity. The free, elegant, well-regarded media center platform is steadily gaining users and industry cache. But many wonder about the legal issues surrounding the software and, in particular, some popular Kodi add-ons.
When Kodi first debuted as XBMC, which stands for Xbox Media Center, it found its audience among gamers. Xbox users were looking for a way to use their systems to not only play video games, but also to watch TV and stream other media.
Kodi filled that role. It did it so well that the platform soon expanded. Today, anyone can download Kodi—for free—for use on a variety of operating systems and devices to better organize and enjoy one’s media collection.
Kodi also works with TVs and remote controls to play all kinds of content—movies, TV shows, pictures, music—on a TV screen. It is a popular choice over Windows Media Center for Home Theater PCs. The platform can be personalized and customized in a wide variety of ways.
Watch a demo of Kodi and other popular media gizmos:
There are thousands of Kodi add-ons and plug-ins available to further enhance its function. That includes accessing media streaming services like YouTube, Hulu, Netflix and much, much more.
In 2014, Kodi (then still XBMC) was awarded “Best Media Player” by Lifehacker. It’s popularity has risen steadily since then.
Kodi is not only free, but also open-source. Developed by the XBMC Foundation, a non-profit consortium, the platform is meant to be available to anyone to use and enjoy. But the fact that it’s open source has opened the door for some questionable uses.
The legal, and sketchy, ways some people use Kodi
One of the most compelling features of Kodi is that it can fill the role of a media streaming device. Users can stream TV shows and movies onto a TV using Kodi—which is perfectly fine provided one has a subscription if the service is paid (like Netflix or access to cable channels).
The problem is that the open-source development platform means anyone with the know-how can create add-ons and plugins for Kodi. There are some very popular ones that run toward the gray area of legality.
Specifically, these are the extensions that enable users to watch copyrighted content without the required subscriptions. A simple YouTube or web search will reveal just how much interest there is in this, and how many add-ons are available.
But that doesn’t make Kodi illegal. As the argument goes, Kodi is no more illegal than a computer. It could be used in illegal ways. But the technology itself doesn’t violate any laws.
That’s true to an extent. One major exception could turn out to be versions of Kodi that contain—without a commercial license—certain software snippets that can unscramble the Content Scramble System with which many DVDs are encrypted. That does put Kodi at risk of violating the U.S.’S Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But so far no one has stepped up to take any legal action.
Whether the developers who create the questionable add-ons, or the people who use them, are in violation of any laws is another big question. Copyright holders would certainly say yes. But it can be difficult to pinpoint the precise offense per today’s laws. Plus, simply locating violators can be a headache, as most developers use anonymous screen names.
Kodi does take care to discourage users from installing suspect add-ons. It provides a list of blacklisted add-ons on its website.
For anyone who wants to use Kodi in the standard, sanctioned ways, there are no legal concerns to worry about. There’s just an amazingly versatile, user-friendly, free platform to enjoy.