If you’ve only heard about Kodi in passing, you may know that it’s a way to stream videos online, but that it comes with certain cybersecurity risks. But don’t let the bad press scare you, using Kodi on its own doesn’t break any laws, and you can easily protect your Internet connection with the right VPN. We show you how below.
Kodi has become one of the most popular media center software, but also one of the most controversial. So how legal is it to use Kodi and are you safe doing so. Our Kodi guide here will answer all questions.
What exactly is Kodi?
Kodi is formerly known as Xbox Media Center or XBMC. It is a free media player which was initially created by a not-for-profit tech consortium known as the XBMC Foundation. It launched back in 2002 as the Xbox Media Player (XBMP) but quickly evolved in 2004 into the XBMC.
Its initial target platform was the first generation of the Xbox games consoles created by Microsoft, but it was never formally approved for use by Microsoft, so it was only available to users who hacked their device to permit the installation of unofficial software or those who had a modchip installed.
Its initial purpose, which remains unchanged to this day, was to provide users with a single central hub through which they could manage all of their personal media.
In 2014, XBMC, which had long since branched out down its own software fork, finally rebranded itself and the term Kodi emerged. By this point, it was also available as an app on a wide variety of different operating systems including iOS, MacOS, Android, Linux, and Windows.
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The technical bit (jargon-free)
Let’s get technical for just a moment. Kodi is a piece of open-source software, originally written in C++ code. If you are not familiar with the term ‘open-source’, it means that the software and its source code can be accessed, analyzed, changed, and then legally redistributed. Essentially software developments can legally personalize and make improvements to the core Kodi software.
Kodi is actually available as a piece of Free and open-source software (FOSS), which means that unlike some open source programs which require a license to be obtained from the copyright holder, Kodi is totally free and available to anyone who wants to play around with the coding and make changes.
This has resulted in a modified version of Kodi being used in such diverse devices as set-top boxes, Smart TVs, hotel TV systems, other media players, and even digital signs.
If you are not a software developer, the benefits of Kodi being a FOSS is most evident in the flexible nature of the modern version of the software. This can be seen firstly in its appearance, with a wide variety of different skins available to give the software pretty much any appearance you might want for it. If you know a bit about coding, you are also able to personalize it yourself.
More importantly, however, this flexibility has manifested itself in the huge number of plug-ins which can be added to the software to add functionality.
A plug-in, if you cannot guess from the name, is a software component which can be added to a Kodi to add a specific feature or capability to the software. For Kodi, a plug-in is most commonly used to enable users to stream online media content through the software.
They function in a similar way to apps on your smartphone, allowing you to personalize Kodi and use it to access and stream media from the sources that interest you.
What can Kodi do today?
So, as you will have gathered, Kodi has evolved quite a lot from the original piece of software designed to be used on the first-generation Microsoft Xbox 15 years ago.
Today, Kodi is one of the most versatile and efficient media players around. It is capable of playing pretty much any type of audio or media file format around. This makes it a great piece of software to use as a hub if you are getting your media from different sources and in different file formats.
Those of you who have downloaded video or audio files before will be very familiar with the frustration of getting the file of a film you have long wanted to see, or that album you have been looking forward to listening to for ages, and then finding it won’t play on your media player. With Kodi, that issue is a thing of the past.
It can also bring media files from all of your online devices together and make them available across everywhere. With Kodi installed on all your devices, any audio or media file, and even photo files, are available on the other devices in your media network. This means you can stream all the media files stored on your smartphone on your computer, Amazon Fire TV Stick, or whatever other device you might have Kodi downloaded on.
Kodi is also able to both stream and record live TV, and with the addition of electronic program guides, and smartphone apps, can also allow users to turn their smartphone into a TV remote.
What devices can I download Kodi onto?
As a popular piece of open-source software, it would be easy to assume that Kodi was available on every device you possibly can think of. That is sort of true, but the reality is a little more complicated than that.
First, the simple bit. There are Kodi apps freely available for all Windows, MacOS, Linux, and Android devices. Should you be a developer who enjoys tinkering with a Raspberry Pi, there are also some versions available for that too (and there are even Kodi branded cases available should you be so inclined).
A particularly popular platform for Kodi is the Amazon Fire TV Stick. This portable USB device is ideal for making all of your media available anywhere you go. Similar, but lower profile devices, such as the WeTek Play also have Kodi apps available.
But you may have noticed a few rather glaring omissions to this list. There is no official version of Kodi available on iOS for iPhones and iPads. The reason for this is the importance with which Apple regards its vetting process. To get into the Apple Store, all apps have to pass a very strict security vetting process, which is how Apple has minimized the exposure of their customers to viruses and other software threats.
Whilst Kodi itself is not a threat in this way, its customizability and the ability to install third-party plug-ins is viewed by Apple as a risk, as they would not be able to vet these add-ons directly. Don’t despair, as it is still possible to get Kodi onto your iPhone, but you will need to jailbreak your device in order to do it.
Similarly, there is no app available for Windows phones at the present time, and with sales of Window’s devices in decline, it seems unlikely that one will emerge anytime soon.
Ironically, the other major device on which Kodi is not currently available is games consoles. Despite the software being originally developed for the Xbox, there are no versions that currently function on any modern games consoles. This is because most consoles these days do not offer the ability to add external software in the same way that the older versions did.
In an effort to prevent software piracy and keep users dependent on software bought directly from the manufacturer, most games consoles are locked down these days and Kodi is far from the only piece of software that cannot be used on them.
How do I use Kodi?
As outlined above, Kodi is not available on absolutely every device. But for those that it is, the process for downloading it is relatively easy.
You can download an installer for your operating system of choice on the official Kodi website. For some platforms, such as the Amazon Fire TV Stick, you may need to download a dedicated installer tool before you can download Kodi. These are usually available on the ‘most popular apps’ lists.
That will download the core Kodi software, but as we have already explained, what makes Kodi really special is the plug-ins. And most users will immediately want to start to download the plug-ins that interest them.
There are many hundreds of these plug-ins available. A full list can be found on the Kodi Wiki. Users can download them in one of two ways.
They can either download individual plug-ins directly from their creators or they can find them in a repository such as SuperRepo.
Once you have downloaded a plug-in, it can be installed quite easily. Click on ‘system’ on the main Kodi screen, then select ‘settings’, ‘add-ons’, and ‘install from zip file’. You’ll then have the option to select the downloaded zip file from your downloads folder or wherever you saved it. And don’t worry about extracting the zip package before installing onto Kodi, as the Kodi software will do all that for you.
Is Kodi legal?
You may have noted at the top of this article we described Kodi as a “controversial” piece of software. This controversy is the reason for much of the media coverage around Kodi and indirectly for the surge in its popularity in recent times.
It stems from the external plug-ins that you can download and use with Kodi. Some of these plug-ins can be used to enable the user to break media copyright laws and this has led to some governments and companies taking steps to regulate Kodi’s usage.
This makes the question is Kodi legal, both a simple and complex one to answer.
The simple answer
The simple answer to the question is Kodi legal, is yes. Kodi is absolutely 100% legal.
It is a piece of computer software and every bit as legal to download and use as any software which is available under the GNU General Public Licence.
As it is a FOSS, the creators of Kodi, the XBMC Foundation, have been extremely transparent with what Kodi is. The source code is freely available on Github, the world’s leading software development platform.
They also work with the Software Freedom Law Center, an advisory body which assists developers on issues related to copyright and trademark law.
So, not only is Kodi completely legal, but its developers are as transparent as they possibly could be about what it is made up of. So having Kodi on any electronic device is not going to get you in any trouble whatsoever.
Where the answer to this question gets a little more complicated is when it turns to the question of Kodi plug-ins or add-ons.
The complicated answer
Whilst Kodi itself is totally legal, its states as a FOSS is where the problems start. As a piece of free open-source software, Kodi allows developers to use its source code to create additional software or amend existing software however they see fit.
Kodi and its developers have no control over what these plug-ins actually allow users to do, and this is the problem. Because some Kodi plug-ins do enable users to undertake online activity which might be illegal. Principally, these are plug-ins which allow users to stream and download copyrighted content for free.
But the legality of streaming and downloading copyrighted content will depend on which country you are living in. Because national laws on copyright can vary from place to place and in many places, the legality is still not clear.
The European Union
The classic example of this lack of legal clarity is in the European Union, where it appears that streaming copyrighted content is not considered an offense.
It all stems back to a 2014 ruling from the European Courts of Justice. They found that copyright law was not infringed by people streaming copyrighted content online because the copyrighted information was only stored on their device temporarily.
This suggested that whilst downloading copyrighted content illegally was against the law, streaming wasn’t, and as most Kodi add-ons are used to facilitate the latter, there was no real legal issue with Kodi.
However, a recent ruling has shifted this position somewhat. In a case brought against a Dutchman referred to a Mr. Willuns, the European Court of Justice ruled that the sale of pre-loaded Kodi boxes was against the law.
A Kodi box is a piece of hardware rather like a set-top TV box which some users have to use Kodi on their TVs. A pre-loaded box is one which comes with the plug-ins that can be used to stream copyrighted content already downloaded onto it. Perhaps the most common usage is to watch subscription TV services without having to pay a subscription.
This case has muddied the water still further because whilst it can be argued that the case has now ruled streaming to be illegal as well as downloading, it confirmed that the equipment itself was not illegal and it was the fact that the defendant was selling the box with the software on it, with the intent of it being used to infringe copyright law, which was illegal.
There have been a number of prominent arrests for this across the EU, including in the UK, where a man called Malcolm Mayes was fined £250,000 ($325,000) for advertising and selling pre-loaded boxes.
One of the most prominent victims of such copyright infringement is England’s top flight football league, the Premier League. They have secured a ruling in the British courts that enables them to require the UK’s biggest ISPs to block any connections which are hosting illegal streams of Premier League games. This legal step was taken with Kodi plug-in services in mind but is aimed more at those hosting streams than watching them.
Is Kodi legal in the USA?
The situation in the USA is similarly vague. Back in 2011, a bill called S.978 was put before Congress which tried to make the streaming of copyrighted content a felony offense. The bill failed to make it through Congress.
This means that much like in the EU, technically using Kodi to stream copyrighted content in the US does not appear to be in breach of any specific law. But downloading such content is likely to be in breach of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
A greater threat to those who do stream copyrighted content is likely to come from copyright trolls.
As ever, money talks in the USA, and organizations such as the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and some ISPs keep tabs on such activity.
They frequently hire copyright lawyers, better known as copyright trolls, who will threaten individuals to seek sizable financial settlements in exchange for not taking them to court. Usually, streamers can safely ignore such demands as copyright trolls will not bother to actually follow through on their threats because individual streamers are not profitable enough.
But if such a demand does escalate into a court case, it is vital to show up as a no-show defendant will automatically be deemed to have lost.
Is Kodi safe?
As with the issue of Kodi’s legality, the question of whether Kodi is safe is not a straightforward one to answer.
If pressed, the simple answer to the question ‘is Kodi safe’ would have to be ‘no’. But, having said that, taking a few simple precautions should be enough to protect users from the handful of threats they are exposed to when using Kodi.
The reason Kodi cannot be described as safe is down to its open-source coding. Making the source code available for all developers to adapt and create add-ons for has made Kodi the popular media player that it is today. But it has also made it relatively easy for hackers to create malicious add-ons. This is one of the main reasons why Apple refuses to allow Kodi into its App Store.
Such add-ons open Kodi users up to a number of common threats, but these can be addressed fairly easily. Those threats include:
A ‘Man-in-the-Middle attack occurs when data is intercepted whilst traveling between one device and another and corrupted by a third party.
Kodi is vulnerable to such attacks because of the way it updates itself. When Kodi is first launched, it automatically searches for any updates to the core software or any add-ons which have already been downloaded. Any that it finds will be automatically downloaded without the user having to confirm the download, or even being aware of it.
The problem is that this process takes place over an unencrypted and unsecured HTTP protocol. This insecure protocol makes it easy for hackers to intercept update data and potential add in a modified update which behaves maliciously and could be used to further infiltrate the user’s system.
This is a problem which Kodi’s administrators should have addressed by now, but so far haven’t. Fortunately, it is easily mitigated. Using a reputable VPN means that all of your online traffic is encrypted, regardless of whether it is using the HTTP or more secure HTTPS protocol.
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However, a VPN will not encrypt data as it travels between its server and the Kodi server. There is a lower chance of data being intercepted here, but it is still possible. Therefore, in addition to a VPN, Kodi users should also consider using an anti-virus programme which can protect their devices.
Most reputable providers should do the job, provided they are updated regularly, but there are a few tailored-made to stop threats of this nature. One such, which I have had good experiences with is Bitdefender, but there are other options out there.
A better-known threat than Man-in-the-Middle attacks for Kodi users comes from malicious add-ons. As was suggested earlier, Kodi’s open-source coding allows anyone to create add-ons for the software. And whilst many add-ons are perfectly legitimate and very useful, there are inevitably some who have seen Kodi as an opportunity for more nefarious purposes.
If you do download a malicious add-on it is likely to try and execute code on your device with a view to either stealing data, gaining control, or installing malware or ransomware.
There is no failsafe way to counter threats of this nature, but there are a few simple tips which can significantly decrease the risk you are putting yourself in.
Firstly, try to stick to the tried and tested, and recommended add-ons. Look for add-ons which have a high number of good reviews and do some research online before downloading them. This doesn’t guarantee you will be safe, but it will help a lot.
Secondly, a lot of Kodi commentators recommend “sandboxing” Kodi. This means that when you are using Kodi, run it is an environment that cuts it off from the rest of your system. Certainly, every time you use Kodi, you should ensure that your VPN and your AV software is working.
Most VPNs offer a kill-switch facility that will cut the connection to selected software if the VPN connection goes. This should always be enabled for Kodi.
It is becoming more and more common to find adverts or devices which are pre-loaded with Kodi and various add-ons. This might seem like a good time-saving idea, but it is strongly recommended that you avoid such devices.
Whether you are thinking about a pre-loaded Kodi set-top box or Amazon Fire Stick, you are exposing yourself to potential risk.
If you haven’t downloaded the software and add-ons yourself, you cannot know what is on the device and the risk of malicious software being present is often high. And that is without taking into account the potential legal risks of purchasing and using such devices which we have discussed above.
Here at Addictive Tips, we strongly advise downloading Kodi and all add-ons yourself. The process is simple enough and there are countless guides available online. That along with using a good VPN and anti-virus software offers you the best chance of a safe Kodi experience. Most users will be fine, but as with all open-source products, you can never be 100% safe.
Kodi builds and add-ons
Kodi’s popularity stems from the huge number of add-ons and builds available, which allows each user to enjoy a uniquely personal experience with the software.
There are countless builds and add-ons available, far too many to detail every single one here. But for those looking for pointer to get them going with Kodi, here is a run-down of our top-5 builds and add-ons for Kodi in 2017:
The Top 5 Kodi Builds
A Kodi build is a quick way to get going with Kodi. A Kodi build is a version which comes with various add-ons pre-installed which means users can get going straight away. As we have already noted, our advice is for users to download a clean version of Kodi and their own add-ons, as there is a risk that builds could contain malicious software.
But they are a great way to get going, so we have detailed out top 5 builds which should be safe to use and give you a great Kodi experience
Nemesis is a clean and visually appealing Kodi build which offers users a great experience. It features a whole host of the most popular (and legal) add-ons already installed and ready to use. Nemesis can be used on pretty much any platform and it’s simple three-line menu allows users to navigate easily.
Apollo is perhaps the most complete and fully-functioning build you will find for Kodi. It has a simple, user-friendly and stylish appearance. Underneath it contains pretty much every add-on you are every likely to need already in place and ready to use.
Adding too many add-ons to Kodi can, at times, make it unstable, but Apollo has no such problems and should work on Laptops and Fire Sticks without any trouble.
3. Dad’s Life
Dad’s Life is a popular build in the UK, where it has been billed as a Kodi build for all the family. It has a great cross-section of content, ranging from kids shows and family-friendly films through to more grown-up content, sports, and even games for Mums and Dads.
It is another build with a clean and easy-to-use interface and it is easy to see why so many families have opted for it.
4. FireTV Build
The Amazon Fire TV Stick is one of the most popular tools for running Kodi, so it is no surprise that a build tailored for that platform should be one of the most downloaded around.
It has plenty to offer too, with all the most popular add-ons included, but with a focus on keeping it light on resources and heavy on user features and speed. It was created by the FireTVGuru website and they also offer support and tips for using the build through their Facebook page, which is a nice touch.
Evolution is another Kodi build which is focused on providing content for all the family. All of the usual add-ons are included on a build based around the Zephyr skin, which is user-friendly and visually appealing. It is the fresh and clean look which makes this build one of the best and most popular around.
The Top 5 Kodi Add-Ons
As we have already noted above, users need to be careful to ensure they are downloading legitimate and secure add-ons. But there are far more good add-ons than bad ones and we have picked out top 5 add-ons to help get you going.
Exodus is the most-used video add-on for Kodi and one of the first most users will download. It is one of the most reliable around, with far fewer broken links than others and a clean, crisp, and easy-to-use interface.
It should be noted that Exodus does not distinguish between copyrighted and uncopyrighted content, so user discretion is required with this. It has also been corrupted in the past and used to turn user devices into a Botnet. Downloaders are therefore advised to follow the precautions we have outlined above.
Phoenix is another hugely popular video add-on with one of the most comprehensive content lists available on any Kodi add-on. The content is regularly updated and also placed in dedicated sections to appeal to different demographics, which makes it easy to find things that appeal to you.
YouTube is obviously the biggest internet video site in the world so it should come as little surprise to learn that demand for it is high on Kodi as well. There are a number of add-ons which allow access to YouTube, but the best we have found is simply called YouTube and was created by Bromix.
Kodi is not just about streaming video content but managing all your media content. Plex is a great (and official tool) to allow you to access and manage everything from personal video’s, photos, music, and downloaded media, in one place. It offers DNLA support and can allow you to access all of your content across multiple devices and even stream it online. Plex should be essential for all Kodi users.
5. ROM Collection Browser
As I noted at the top of this section, there are thousands of add-ons that I could mention. Perhaps my fifth pick should be Twitch, which allows users to enjoy online gaming streams. I know that young people, especially in Asia, are crazy about this.
But instead, I’m going to show my age and pick the ROM Collection Browser. This add-on allows users to play a whole host of retro video games through Kodi. Titles such as Pac-man and Super Mario are in there with pretty much every other game I used to while away the hours with as a kid. Beats watching other people playing games for me, but that’s the beauty of Kodi; there really is something for everyone!
An overview: What is Kodi? Is it Legal? Is it safe?
In summary, Kodi is a flexible and hugely popular media player which offers a number of unique features which will benefit most modern internet users who stream or download content online.
Kodi itself is a completely legal piece of software, but the plug-ins and add-ons, which are part of what has made it so popular can sometimes not be legal.
A simple rule of thumb is not to buy or sell Kodi boxes or other devices on which Kodi and these plug-ins have been pre-installed. This is definitely not legal in most places.
It is still a grey area in both the EU and the US whether streaming copyrighted content is illegal. If you want to be sure, ask yourself if you are watching a paid-for service for free. If you are, you might end up in trouble.
Kodi is also not a 100% safe product, thanks to its open-source status. But by ensuring your download the software and any add-ons yourself and make use of a reputable VPN and anti-virus tool when using it, there is no reason why most users should enjoy a trouble-free experience with Kodi.
All in all, Kodi is not only a good media player, but it is one of the best media players around. And if used sensibly, could revolutionise the way you experience media content online.