The popularity of Kodi has skyrocketed over the past year and a half.
The open source media player is perfectly legitimate by itself, but can be used for infringing purposes in conjunction with third-party add-ons which can be used to access vast libraries of unauthorised content. The Kodi player and add-on allow content to be streamed directly through televisions as well as mobile and desktop devices.
Due to increasing technological and broadband capabilities, infringement has seen a shift from downloading to streaming in recent years. The effect of this has been almost instant viewing of protected video content which is now possible through streaming – the technical nature of online piracy has traditionally acted as a barrier to entry for those who may otherwise have chosen infringing content consumption methods, but through Kodi piracy is more accessible to the general public than ever before.
Infringing third-party add-ons come pre-configured on ‘fully loaded’ boxes, dongles and sticks, which are widely available at low prices on major online domestic and international marketplaces, dedicated domains and even in physical stores. The add-ons typically work by scraping content from popular file sharing sites – many of which are subject to blocking orders around the globe – and then delivering streams through a simple user interface. This makes obtaining protected content a more streamlined process.
Data relating to the usage of these third-party add-ons is scarce; however, figures released by TVAddons1 (the site which hosts the most popular third-party add-on repository) are helpful in picturing the global scale of infringing Kodi usage. The adjacent graph displays unique monthly users of the TVAddons repository between December 2015 and March 2017. Kodi boxes automatically communicate with add-on repositories; therefore, the figures provide an indication of how many boxes may be being used and how this has changed over time.
These figures suggest that significant levels of infringement are occurring, with close to 40 million unique users reported to have connected to the repository in March 2017 alone. When compared to July 2016, the unique monthly users in March 2017 has increased significantly by 16,169,007 (69.4%). This interest in the usage of third-party add-ons appears to show no signs of slowing down at this stage – now 25,992,591 (193%) higher than it was just over a year ago in December 2015.
When considering these figures, it is important to note that they are not indicative of the whole third-party add-on landscape – only that occurring through the TVAddons repository. Therefore, whilst this is likely to represent a considerable proportion of infringing add-on usage, total usage is expected to be even higher than the TVAddons figures suggest.
The popularity of Kodi has been somewhat untested until relatively recently, though now it is seen as a key threat to intellectual property rights and one which will not be left alone. In response to rightsholder and broadcaster complaints, the UK’s Intellectual Property Office launched a consultation relating to whether a change in current legislation might be required in order to tackle illicit streaming devices.2
The widespread availability on many of the major online marketplaces has been a considerable driving force in the uptake of Kodi boxes. Kodi has been banned on the Amazon app store since June 2015 due to piracy concerns, yet it is only recently, in February 2017, that the marketplace has taken wider steps to address Kodi box usage. This action came in the form of a policy update (screenshot below) which targets streaming media players – particularly content infringing devices.3
This is a significant development, and one which INCOPRO has followed closely. Monitoring infringing Kodi listings on Amazon before and after the change has allowed for the impact of this policy change upon ‘obviously infringing’ Kodi boxes to be assessed. Whilst there has been an effective reduction in product listings which contain ‘red-flag’ keywords (i.e. use of the term “fully loaded” for example) it is not clear to what extent this has translated to a change in the volume of infringing boxes still available on the marketplace. The result of the policy change appears to have been effective on the surface, with less obviously infringing listings, though several key infringement indicators – such as images in the listing, comments in the user Q&A section and evidence of third-party add-ons found in customer reviews – show infringing Kodi boxes may still be a prominent issue on the platform. It is important to also note that this change only appears to have occurred on one of the main marketplaces, meaning that infringing Kodi box sellers are still dealing on other platforms.
Targeting sellers is a crucial aspect of enforcement against infringing boxes, though another key concern is what can be done to curtail the use of the boxes which are already in use. As the streams which third-party add-ons use are mainly sourced from infringing sites, another option would be to tackle sites which are being used by add-ons in order to ‘dry’ the supply of streams. This could be done through restricting internet access to these sites – similar to anti-piracy site blocking orders in use throughout Europe. The latest development in this area is a March 2017 court order which awarded the English Premier League an injunction against internet service providers, requiring them to impede access to streaming servers notified by the English Premier League as providing unauthorised access to matches4 (i.e. the streams used by Kodi and other devices). Such injunctions have previously only been granted to block access to websites as opposed to servers. It appears progress is being made in the right direction, however it remains to be seen how this will impact upon the future of infringing Kodi boxes.