Decoded: How dodgy is the Kodi Box?
Kodi and so-called ‘Kodi Boxes’ aren’t dodgy, but things get a whole lot blurrier depending on how they’re used.
A Kodi Box is a kind of streaming device also known as a ‘streaming box’. Unlike ‘streaming sticks’ like the Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick, which connect directly to an HDMI port, a streaming box is portlier and connects to a screen via an HDMI cable. In stock form, streaming boxes and streaming sticks are legal devices to use in Australia and are often used to run legitimate streaming services.
Kodi in short
In its core form as a media player, Kodi is legal to use and doesn’t include any content. The creators have a disclaimer that stresses this point. “Kodi does not provide any media itself. Users must provide their own content or manually point Kodi to third-party online services. The Kodi project does not provide any support for bootleg video content.”
What is Kodi?
Kodi is free-to-download, free-to-use and open-source software that’s regularly updated and built by a community of volunteer developers. Each of the major Kodi builds has a name (for instance, Kodi build 18 is called Leia, and version 19 will be called Matrix), and users can download a recommended stable build or test new features on a beta test build.
Kodi is intended as a media player for visual and audio entertainment, including music, movies, TV shows and photos via local libraries of content, shared libraries in the home, or by streaming online. Like namesake NRL halfback Kodi Nikorima, Kodi can’t run anything unless you feed it the ball (read: content).
A lot of this functionality is supported by Kodi-endorsed third-party add-ons or unendorsed third-party add-ons that can fall into legal grey (or darker than grey) areas. Kodi also supports personal video recorder (PVR) functionality for recording live TV and can be customised in how it looks (via skins) to suit personal tastes.
What is the history of Kodi?
Originally, Kodi started out as Xbox Media Center (XBMC for short), which was designed specifically as a media player for Xbox consoles. It eventually evolved into a multiplatform program that can be installed as software on Windows, Linux, MacOS, and Raspberry Pi, or as a Kodi app on Android, iOS, and Xbox One. In more recent years, Kodi has been linked in the media with some less-than-legal third-party add-ons that isn’t great for Kodi’s reputation.
How to use Kodi
Kodi can be installed on any compatible device by downloading the corresponding installation file from the official Kodi website. Once installed, you will want to add content for some or all of the categories by selecting which ones interest you. Kodi will prompt you to direct each category towards content that’s stored locally on the device or on a discoverable network device in your home. Alternatively, choose the settings cog, ‘Add-ons’, then ‘Install from repository’, and finally ‘Kodi Add-on repository’. This will provide a categorised list of Kodi-endorsed third-party apps that you can install for content playback or other extended functionality.
What is a Kodi Box?
In simple terms, a so-called Kodi Box is a streaming box that comes with Kodi pre-installed on it. Technically, a Kodi Box is an Android Box that has Kodi installed on it. Because of this, there’s no such thing as an official Kodi Box in Australia (or anywhere else for that matter), meaning the creators of Kodi do not sell or endorse Kodi Boxes.
The benefit of a Kodi Box (or any Android Box) is it’s a compact device designed to meet the minimum requirements (at the very least) of handling video streaming (local or online). This means you can, for instance, use Kodi for streaming to a Kodi-installed Chromecast.
Is Kodi legal in Australia?
The legality of Kodi depends on how you use it. Downloading and using the software on any number of supported devices (including Kodi Boxes) and installing Kodi-endorsed third-party add-ons is all perfectly legal in Australia. But there are ways this can be complicated by way of Australia’s digital content laws, especially because removing any form of copy protection (no matter how basic) constitutes an infringement.
Legality of local music on Kodi
Music is relatively straightforward in that you can rip (read: back up) a copy of your CD collection for personal use as long as you don’t distribute these copies and so long as you keep the original CD you ripped. You can also create copies of music that’s legitimately downloaded online. In the context of Kodi, it would be okay to rip your CD collection or us
Legality of local video on Kodi
As for the legality of video on Kodi, this is where things get murkier. According to the Australian Law Reform Commission, “format shifting” and “time shifting” are okay for private use.
Format shifting is when you digitise things like photographs, sound recordings and videotapes. The current law application of format shifting notes that this only applies to copies of analog-form films, meaning it does not apply to digitising DVDs, Blu-ray discs or digital copies of movies.
For local video playback on Kodi, this means you’d be technically limited to local streaming of digitised VHS copies of your movie library.
Time shifting, though, refers to video content that you’ve recorded from TV. This means you could legally watch locally recorded TV content on Kodi, so long as you watch it within a “reasonable” time frame (conveniently, “reasonable” isn’t defined).
Legality of streaming from third-party add-ons on Kodi
Because Kodi’s main functionality is handled through the installation of third-party add-ons, this is where things can quickly go from legal to illegal. If you follow the Kodi-endorsed add-ons found on the official website, you can safely assume that these are okay to use on Kodi or a Kodi Box.
However, if you start seeking out third-party apps for Kodi that aren’t officially endorsed – apps like Exodus for Kodi and Covenant for Kodi – they may be offering content from pirated sources. As you may expect, piracy is illegal in Australia, which covers both illegally downloading and streaming content.
Should you use Kodi?
What you want to use Kodi for will determine whether you should use it. If the prospect of watching local content (and sharing it between compatible devices in the home) sounds appealing, Kodi may be of interest. That said, there are more user-friendly media players out there like Plex (there’s even a Plex add-on for Kodi).
Using Kodi for the officially endorsed third-party add-ons is also viable, but it won’t replace streaming services like Netflix, Stan and Prime Video if you’re looking to legally stream video content.