Brian Thompson, a shopkeeper in the North East of England, has pleaded not guilty in a landmark case, challenging the legality of video-streaming set-top boxes that provide subscription content for free.
Thompson is accused of selling “fully loaded” Kodi boxes, modified with software that allowed users to watch pirated content. The trial will begin in May. Thompson denied two charges of selling equipment that facilitated the circumvention of copyright protection measures.
The case was brought by Middlesbrough Council after Trading Standards officers raided Thompson’s shop Cut Price Tomo’s TV in Middlesbrough in March. The council bought two of the TV boxes in question from Thompson’s shop.
After his first court appearance in September, Thompson told the Northern Echo: “These boxes are available from all over the place, not just me, but it’s the downloading of software to watch channels that is apparently causing the problem. If I am found guilty and the court rules that I am breaking the law selling these boxes, I want to know what that means for people buying and selling mobile phones or laptops because the software is available for all of them.”
Ernesto van der Sar, editor of piracy news website TorrentFreak told the BBC: “The case is likely to determine where the boundaries lie when it comes to offering “fully loaded” Kodi TV devices in the UK. “While is doesn’t affect users directly, it’s expected to have a profound impact on sellers in this rapidly growing business.”
Kieron Sharp, director general of the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) said: “Set-top and IPTV boxes which are ‘cracked’ or altered with software to allow you access to copyright-infringing apps and add-ons are illegal devices. The sale and distribution of these boxes is a criminal offence and the repercussions could result in years behind bars.”
Kodi is free, legal software that allows users to collect videos, music games and photos in one easy-to-use application. The software can be modified with third-party add-ons that provide access to pirated copies of movies, TV series or provide free access to subscription television channels.
In February 2016, Kodi announced it would take action against rogue sellers who modify the software, installing broken piracy add-ons, advertising that Kodi allows the user to watch free movies and TV, and then vanishing when the user buys the box and finds out that the add-on they were sold on was “a crummy, constantly breaking mess” according to Kodi Project Manager Nathan Betzen.
In a blog post to the Kodi developer community was: “If you see somebody selling a box that’s ‘fully loaded’ or comes with the phrase ‘Free movies and TV with Kodi’, please, ask them to stop. And let us know. It’s OK to sell a vanilla Kodi box. It’s OK to sell a fully-loaded box that doesn’t have Kodi installed or fully rebrands Kodi to something else entirely. It is not OK to sell a fully loaded Kodi box.”