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Is Kodi Legal? Safe?

By Lyn Atwood / September 9, 2016 / Tags: ,

Whether Kodi is legal could come down to how you’re using it. Anyone using Kodi to stream TV faces some real legal and security concerns. [Last updated: January ’17]

Is Kodi legal, or illegal? Is Kodi safe?

In Brief

Kodi is one of the best TV streaming platforms out there — free, versatile, and powerful — but raises some tricky legal questions, and has known security vulnerabilities users should protect themselves from. Thankfully, avoiding the risks is easy. Anyone who follows these simple steps to stay safe and private on Kodi has nothing to worry about. 

 

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.

⊕ SEE: Why You Should Always Use Kodi With A VPN — And How To Pick The Right One

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.

Kodi is increasing in popularity. The free, elegant, well-regarded media center platform is steadily gaining users and industry cache. In 2014, Kodi (then still XBMC) was awarded “Best Media Player” by Lifehacker, among other awards and nods. (See our Kodi Review for our take on the user experience, available content, and other metrics.) But many wonder about the legal issues surrounding the software and, in particular, some popular Kodi add-ons.

⊕ DON’T RISK IT. See How To Use Kodi Safely & Privately

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 more.

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 for anyone to use and enjoy. But the fact that it’s open source has also opened the door for some questionable uses and security vulnerabilities.

The Legal, And Sketchy, Ways Some People Use Kodi

Is Kodi Legal? Is Kodi Safe?

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). In fact, it wasn’t so long ago the Amazon Appstore included a Kodi app to make it easy for customers to install Kodi on Amazon Fire TV and Fire Stick.

But Amazon pulled that app last year, saying Kodi can be “used to facilitate the piracy or illegal download of content.” And it certainly can. Kodi’s open-source development platform means anyone with the know-how can create add-ons and plugins for Kodi. And there are a lot of them that run toward a legal gray area.

In fact, many of the most popular Kodi add-ons — like Exodus, 1Channel, Sports Devil, and others that let you watch paid TV without paying — are of highly questionable legality. So much so that, if you use these add-ons without also using a VPN with Kodi to stream safely and privately, you’re taking a big risk. (NordVPN is one of the best-rated VPNs for Kodi, by both users and security experts.)

⊕ SEE: Full Comparison Of The Best VPNs For Kodi: Stay Secure & Anonymous

The ‘Kodi Is As Legal As A Computer’ Argument

The presence of third-party add-ons complicates things, but doesn’t make Kodi illegal. As the argument goes, Kodi is no more illegal than a computer. It can be used in illegal ways. But the technology itself doesn’t violate any laws.

There are two major problems with the ‘computer argument.’ Yes, if a person uses a computer for illegal activities, it obviously doesn’t mean computers are illegal. However, the individual can still get in big legal trouble for doing whatever they were doing on the computer. Same goes for Kodi. And this is really what users are concerned about.

Plus, Kodi is more similar to Popcorn Time than a computer. And the Feds dismantled Popcorn Time under pressure from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and others.

The second problem with the ‘computer argument’ and major threat to Kodi’s legality could turn out to be versions of it that contain—without a commercial license—certain software snippets. These snippets 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 (DMCA). The U.S. Justice Department’s recent takedown of Kickass Torrents, a high-traffic file-sharing website, this past July 2016 on alleged DMCA violation, and the criminal copyright charges brought against its owner, have sent shockwaves through the community. Even more recently, in December ’16, a man in the UK was jailed for selling ‘pirate’ Kodi boxes.

Many wonder whether Kodi could be next in the crosshairs as it continues to rise in popularity — a trigger for attracting the attention of the Feds. The Kodi Foundation maintains an unambiguous stance against illegal streaming, and purges bootlegged content from the official add-on repository. However, a zealous prosecutor could try to pin liability on Team Kodi for not being more aggressive in targeting illegal content made available by third parties. So far, though, no one has stepped up to take any legal action against Kodi.

The ‘It’s Not Illegal If You Don’t Download Anything’ Argument

This is a common argument. As long as you don’t download any content there’s nothing to worry about, it posits. Unfortunately, powerful entities like Netflix, HBO, ESPN, Showtime, Amazon, and others disagree. There are reasons to think the law will take their side.

Comparable examples from the music industry have gone the way of the copyright holders. The argument is unlikely to hold up any better with Kodi. In time, or with under any pressure or scrutiny, it will almost certainly get squashed, and current laws changed to correct what many see as a ‘loophole.’

Can You Get In Trouble For Using Kodi?

Whether the developers who create the questionable add-ons, or the people who use them to watch copyrighted content without permission, are in violation of any laws is another big question. Copyright holders would certainly say yes. And while users may think that because they’re not downloading content — just streaming it online — they aren’t violating copyright law, that’s not how many legal agencies see things.

⊕ RELATED: How To Unblock Kodi TV Add-Ons & Watch Way More TV, Movies & Sports

In fact, through some probable collaboration, Internet Service Providers now make a habit of sending alarming letters to customers who appear to be engaged in questionable streaming on Kodi. (ISP tracking is routine all around these days, but can be prevented by using a VPN with Kodi, or anytime you’re online, to hide your IP address.)

So can you get in trouble for using Kodi to stream copyrighted content? The short answer is yes. If someone wanted to push it, you probably could. However, 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 screen names and users who take steps to stay anonymous and secure when using Kodi can’t be tracked at all.

Legal Or Illegal? The Debate Continues

Is Kodi legal? The answer depends on how it’s used, and how much liability one places on the technology itself.

Interestingly, the fact that Kodi is a “blank slate” platform is used as an argument for both its legality and illegality. As a blank slate, opponents argue, Kodi makes it too easy for users to stream copyrighted content without the copyright holder’s permission. But, as a blank slate, it isn’t any more responsible for improper use than, say, YouTube, the other side maintains.

⊕ SEE: How To Set Up A VPN With Kodi

Further in support of Kodi being legal: It doesn’t host any content, and the Kodi Foundation doesn’t profit from it. It’s open-source and operates under a General Public License that guarantees the freedom to use, copy, and modify the software. Kodi is protected by the Communications Decency Act, and Team Kodi does remove add-ons that facilitate illegal streaming from the official repository.

On the other side, many argue the Kodi Foundation’s official stance against illegal streaming is more words than action, and that it doesn’t make an honest effort to stamp out all third-party add-ons that facilitate copyright violation. And so, the debate about Kodi’s legality goes on, with no real end in sight.

Is Kodi Safe?

Is Kodi legal or illegal? Is Kodi safe and secure?

Unfortunately, by itself, Kodi is not safe. There are a number of known security vulnerabilities on Kodi that leave users open to getting hacked. That includes getting system-wide viruses, as well as privacy breaches whereby Kodi users’ personal information is stolen. A recent post on the official Kodi website acknowledged the problem:

Over the past few years it’s become clear that many users have been watching pirated content using unofficial and unsupported add-ons … and they are installing add-on repositories whose trustworthiness is questionable, leaving themselves open to numerous security exploits.

Most of the attacks are what’s called “man-in-the-middle” attacks. That’s when a hacker breaks into the connection between you and Kodi. From there, the attacker can wreaks havoc, with the potential to see all your personal data and corrupt your network.

⊕ SEE: What Are Kodi’s Biggest Security Issues?

It’s a shame. But not too surprising that hackers and scammers would use Kodi — a free, popular platform — to attack users. But there is a simple way to thwart the bad guys and stay secure on Kodi. The good VPNs use security and privacy protections that work so well even the VPN provider can’t see users’ private data or penetrate their networks (Side note: protection comes with a bonus; a VPN also works to unblock Kodi TV add-ons.)

Bottom line: Kodi is an amazing, versatile, powerful platform that offers users a wealth of quality entertainment. But it comes with real legal and security concerns. Even for those who use Kodi in standard, sanctioned ways, there are no guarantees, as the Kodi community acknowledges. If you use third-party add-ons the risk increases dramatically.

Therefore, it is highly recommended that you use a VPN to stay safe, secure and private. Check out our comparison of the top VPNs for Kodi. I personally use NordVPN and have never had a problem or complaint. It’s a PC Magazine Editor’s Choice two years running, and has a 30-day money-back guarantee. (Now through Feb. 28 you can get their winter deal — $3.29/mo for 2 years — or get  it anytime for $5.75/month for an annual account.) The already-awesome Kodi is even better when you eliminate the privacy and security risks.

⊕ Need help getting started? See step-by-step set-up instructions in our guide: How To Set Up A VPN With Kodi

 

RECAP

Is Kodi legal? The answer depends on how it’s used, and how much responsibility is placed on the technology itself. Kodi is one of the best TV streaming platforms out there — free, versatile, and powerful — but definitely raises some tricky legal questions, and has known security vulnerabilities. Users should protect themselves by following these steps.

Arguments Kodi Is Illegal

+  Some of Kodi’s most popular add-ons make it very easy for users to watch copyrighted TV, movies and sports without the copyright holder’s permission
+  The core Kodi platform is a ‘blank slate,’ which makes it too easy for users to stream copyrighted content
+  Kodi may contain software that can unscramble encrypted DVDs, a potential violation of DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act)
+  The Kodi Foundation has an official stance against illegal streaming but doesn’t do enough to remove third-party add-ons that facilitate it

Arguments Kodi Is Legal

+  Countless technology products can be used in illegal ways — but that doesn’t make the product itself illegal
+  Kodi doesn’t host any copyrighted content and therefore doesn’t violate DMCA
+  Kodi is an open-source platform, and the Kodi Foundation doesn’t profit from it
+  Kodi operates under a General Public License which guarantees users the freedom to use, copy, and modify the software
+  Kodi is protected by the Communications Decency Act
+  The Kodi team removes questionable add-ons from the official Kodi repository
+  Kodi is a ‘blank slate’ platform — and therefore free from liability (the way YouTube isn’t liable when users upload copyrighted videos)

Known Security Vulnerabilities On Kodi

+  Security issues on Kodi leave users vulnerable to breaches — getting hacked, having personal information stolen, etc.
+  “Man-in-the-middle” attacks are most common
+  Unofficial and unsupported add-ons pose the biggest risks

How To Eliminate Risk & Use Kodi Safely

+  It’s highly recommended you use Kodi with a VPN, an online security and privacy protection tool, to stay secure and anonymous (hidden from hackers and anyone else spying on your activities)
+  NordVPN is a best-rated VPN for Kodi, by both security experts and users

Further Reading

What Is Kodi?

How To Use Kodi

How To Setup A VPN With Kodi

Compare Best VPNs For Kodi

Why You Should Always Use Kodi With A VPN (Or You Could Regret It)

How To Stay Secure On Kodi

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