What is Kodi, the powerful home media server, and is it legal?

Photo via Kodi (Fair Use)

Kodi is one of the most powerful media centers available online, but with power comes great responsibility.

Using the media player included with your favorite devices can be frustrating. You’re limited to the options selected by the developers, which means you’re often locked out of media types and streaming options you might want to use.

Kodi helps solve that issue. It works as a digital multi-platform home-theater, bringing all of your content together. It can play nearly any media file you throw its way. Have a favorite movie saved on your computer in a weird file type? Kodi can stream it. With the right plugins, users can also connect to a wide range of streaming media services like Amazon Prime, Crackle, Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube.

Kodi’s recent surge in popularity worldwide, however, comes from its ability to pirated movies and TV shows via third-party plugins. If you’re new to the service, or curious about its legality, here’s what you need to know.

What is Kodi Screengrab via Kodi

What is Kodi?

Kodi is a free and open source media player that can run on a host of different operating systems. From Window to Linux, to mobile options like Android and even Raspberry Pi, Kodi is incredibly versatile. Currently only one streaming stick, the Amazon Fire, actually supports Kodi. Chromecast users will need to cast from their Android device to watch content on their TV. Likewise, iOS is supported but only for jailbroken devices.

Kodi was originally known in 2002 as XBMP, short for Xbox Media Player, and was retooled two years later as XBMC (Xbox Media Center). Though the service was never actually authorized by Microsoft, it became popular with the Xbox modders—those who modify their consoles through various forms of hacking—and the program was relaunched as Kodi in August 2014, with far more capabilities and the ability to run outside of Xbox consoles.

When using Kodi on your Android tablet or phone, you can stream your personal digital media by putting it on your device’s micro SD card. Users with Kodi installed on their Android TV can plug in a USB drive with their media on it to stream whatever’s on it. Kodi’s main appeal is its customization, with add-ons that can help you organize your content and even watch full episodes of South Park (more on that later).

Using third-party plugins can turn Kodi into the ultimate piracy box, able to play video game ROMS or stream pirated films. What you do with Kodi is largely up to you.

What is Kodi Google Play/Kodi

Is Kodi legal?

The short answer is yes, but it’s not that simple. If you stick to official channels and services, Kodi is a useful, powerful, and completely legal streaming system for content.

The problem is that that’s not how most people use Kodi. There are countless third-party plugins and programs like Exodus that allow you to stream illegal content off of Kodi. Other services focus on sports and pay-per-view content. Kodi is trying to shut down down nefarious plugins, but its open-source nature—meaning that anyone has access to the program’s code—essentially turns the issue into a game of Whack-A-Mole: As soon as one plugin is blocked, another one crops up in his place. There’s no way for Kodi to fully stop piracy from occurring on the system without locking it down completely, and that would detract from the program’s main appeal: the ability to modify it as you see fit. (Third-party plugins can be found by searching for specific websites within the Kodi app. We’re purposefully not linking to them here.)


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what is Kodi, and is Kodi legal? Illustration by Jason Reed (Fair Use)

Kodi vs Dish Network

Kodi has been hit with lawsuits in the past for the actions of third-party apps, causing them to try distance themselves from unofficial services.  

In June 2017, a series of lawsuits filed by the satellite company Dish Network brought about the end of two of the service’s biggest (and most questionable) third-party apps—ZemTV and Phoenix, both of which allowed users to stream live and on-demand content for free, regardless of potential copyright infringement.

In response, Phoenix developers Cosmix announced on the TVAddOns forum that it would be closing down the service: “In light of current events we have decided to close down phoenix. This is not something that was easy for us to do; we have all formed a bond that cannot be broken as a team and have a HUGE support base that we are thankful of.”

While ZemTV is still offering its video-on-demand options, it has shut down its live TV feature in response to the lawsuit. However, the specter of being destroyed by a lawsuit has had a massive ripple impact on the third-party Kodi-streaming world.

The blog Kodi Geeks is keeping a running list of the services that have shut down or been modified, with the latest update coming on June 6, 2017. At the moment, the list includes other big names like Vortex, DOJO Streams, Bamf, and more. At the moment Exodus, arguably the biggest of the Kodi third-party services, remains open.

The worst thing that’ll happen if you use Kodi to stream illegal content in the U.S. is likely a strongly worded letter from internet service provider, but users in the U.K. should be far more careful. An E.U. court ruled in early May 2017 that it would treat the use of a multimedia player like Kodi to stream pirated material like it would the downloading of an illegal copy. From the ruling:

“In the present case and having regard, in particular, to the content of the advertising of the multimedia player and to the fact that the main attraction of that player for potential purchasers is the pre-installation of the add-ons concerned, the Court finds that the purchaser of such a player accesses a free and unauthorised offer of protected works deliberately and in full knowledge of the circumstances.”

In other words, the use of Kodi to stream pirated material in the U.K. can be considered copyright infringement and could carry significant punishment. Remember when you use a third-party app on Kodi to use a VPN and be aware that you may be breaking the law. If it feels illegal, it probably is, so don’t be surprised if your favorite service gets shut down.

kodi update and lawsuits : phoenix falling Photo by Phoenix

What are the best legal addons for Kodi? 

Downloading add-ons for Kodi is a simple as scrolling down to the Add-ons menu, but finding the best ones can be more of a hassle. There are a ton of options available. You should be able to easily find things like YouTube on the front page of the Add-ons menu, but to find the other good stuff, you’ll need to look in the Add-on Repository.  To access the repository go to Settings -> Add-ons -> Install from repository -> Kodi Add-on Repository.

Once inside you’ll see hundreds of options to choose from. Here are our favorites, but you can find a complete list here.

Dbmc: This add-on allows Kodi to access your Dropbox account, letting you stream any music, video, or picture file you’re currently storing on the service. For users who can’t plug a USB into their device, this is a great way to stream your own content.

South Park: You can easily access SouthPark.cc, the website that lets you watch all of South Park.

What is Kodi: South Park addon Screengrab via Kodi

Food Network: Stream your favorite shows off of the Food Network website. While you’ll miss out on full seasons, the Food Network add-on serves up heaping helpings of great content.

Emby: Emby is a media management server that synchronizes your media libraries across your compatible devices. If you’re streaming something from Kodi on your phone, then jump to Kodi on your Amazon Fire stick, Emby will make sure you pick up where you left off. Setting it up can be a little complicated, so make sure you follow the complete steps from its wiki entry.

Crackler: Crackle offers some of the best free content online, from original movies to classic TV shows. This addon will keeping you knee deep in content for the foreseeable future.

Need more help? Here’s how to install Kodi on an Amazon Fire TV Stick and your Android TV

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How to install Kodi on Amazon Fire
Amazon has updated its Fire TV Stick in the past to keep users from running Kodi on it, but here's one method that works—for now.
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