Kodi is not a piracy tool

Piracy, it's everywhere: an unstoppable force that has aimed to subvert legitimate supply of entertainment since the dawn of motion pictures. Over the last few decades it has taken many forms: bootlegged VHS and DVD copies, digital copies, and most prominently in the press, illegitimate streaming services.

Ever the hot topic, the art of reporting on piracy shifts as quickly as the act itself, with the online news circuit rich in content regarding the current perceived epidemic of online sports and movie streaming, and has allowed Kodi to become its poster child.

Firstly, let's understand what Kodi is and what it has been designed to do. Kodi is an application that provides a platform for you to view and enjoy all of your personal digital media in one place. It allows you to watch your movies, listen to your music and even watch live TV from a single source, while organising it in a uniform way.

As the popularity in digital media grew, Kodi became one of the mainstream answers to the problem of an increasingly fragmented market. Instead of a user reliance on DRM-laced player applications, Kodi sought to bring it all together, and it does it well.

In fact, it is Kodi's open platform and extensible plugin/addon functionality that has attracted the salivating mouths of piracy advocates. It is at this point that the line between intent and misuse becomes blurred for those that do not follow the XMBC Foundation or Team Kodi as mainstream media has unfortunately fanned the flames of debate by using clickbaited headlines in order to drive revenue, all while misappropriating the Kodi name and misinforming those that are driven to such articles.

Now, I would be naive to suggest that Kodi is not used in part by people to watch copyrighted material. However, it is incredibly important to make that distinction between what Kodi is designed for and what people do with it. Cars, for example, are designed to transport you from Point A to Point B. They also make an excellent mode of getaway at bank robberies.

If I were to run a Google News search for "kodi", I'd get a plethora of links containing words like "illegal", "banned", "prison", "football streams". This has occurred in part due to Kodi's popularity; if any other application were leading the way, it would be their name in the headlines instead. Therein lies the problem; a correlation between piracy and Kodi has been made, yet it is being treated as a causation. "Kodi means piracy. Piracy means Kodi."

Let's take a look at some of the headlines I've been seeing in recent weeks regarding Kodi:

Your Kodi box could about to be BANNED after this new review

A report by Essex Live suggests in its headline that your use of Kodi would be banned. Why would it be banned? What review? "You'll never guess what happens next...". Abhorrent clickbaiting such as this is unfortunately extremely effective at drawing you in because it's telling you that Kodi is bad (why else would it be banned?).

The article reports on a new IPO (Intellectual Property Office) investigation that is seeking to curb the sale of small Android boxes that have a version of Kodi installed containing third-party addons that enable access to illegal streams of movies and sports content. The point of this is to tell you that sellers of these boxes are the targets of this review, not users of Kodi. The article's headline fails to make the distinction between Kodi as an application and the particular use-case focused on in the article.

Kodi WARNING - Kodi users will be threatened with 10 YEARS in PRISON

The Express recently wrote an article with the above headline that goes further than suggesting but instead claims as fact that users of Kodi will be threatened with prison sentences. No context is given as to why this would be the case, and the headline also omits any reference to illegality or wrongdoing. In short, this headline is stating that Kodi itself is the reason for such a threat.

In reality, the article is reporting on a new governmental bill that is currently in the process of being reviewed which has the potential to create a gap for certain entities to threaten those that share copyrighted material. The article uses Kodi as its primary example, yet its own source relates to file sharing as a general act; there is no mention of Kodi in it. The ambiguity of the bill itself is the cause of concern because it wouldn't specify the type of sharing that occurs - sharing a GIF would be caught in its net, for example.

These sensationalist headlines are littered all over the internet via local online newspapers as well as some major players in mainstream media. So if it takes an armchair lawyer like myself to point this out, why are they doing it? I expect the short answer is advertising and income. Online media outlets rely on clicks to drive their income, and if they're not getting those clicks, they're not getting paid. Advertising costs and remuneration rise and fall depending on the nature of the content and the industry being reported on, but it's clear to see that such news outlets are resorting to clickbait in order to drive up their income.

By foregoing legitimate, accurate and clear journalism, the general public's perception of Kodi has been skewed by the press into believing that Kodi is piracy incarnate. This affirmation is an insult to those at Team Kodi and the community that spend their time working on improving the experience for their users.

From my point of view, Kodi is a marvel in software engineering. The XBMC Foundation, its developers at Team Kodi, and the community have created a single panacea to help make your home cinema a much simpler reality. The thousands of man-hours of code, research, design, and marketing have culminated in a tool that's not only functional, but a work of art.

It's a well-crafted application-turned-ecosystem that provides a free and open platform for other developers to add their own unique functionality. While mainstream media focuses on the illegal unsupported and banned repositories, there are hundreds of legitimate, useful and amazing addons in the official repository. They deserve a voice as well - people spend their own time creating wonderful expansions that further increase Kodi's usefulness. This is something that should be lauded, not lambasted.

The media has done nothing other than serve to discredit this hard work by placing it into a category of dubiousness and ill repute by failing to immediately differentiate between the application itself and the illegal third-party addons unaffiliated people create for it.

It's clear that the news isn't going to stop this kind of reporting so it's now up to us to resist being drawn in to such content by questioning the immediacy of the headlines we read.

"Kodi logo" image by Sam Fisher

Josh Stark

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Devon, UK