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What is Kodi and is it Legal?

Update: I released a podcast episode that covers this article in even greater detail. Listen below or find more options in the show notes.

What is Kodi?

Kodi (Formerly known as XBMC) is a free, open source, software media center. Kodi allows you to play TV, Movies, view pictures and more on various devices. Normally, users install Kodi on a supported device or computer connected to a television. The user configures Kodi by setting up the location of various video sources.

Kodi also accesses content over the internet using various “add-ons” created by members of the Kodi open source community. Therefore, add-ons do not come “out of the box” with any official version of Kodi.

Whether it’s your personal video library or other user-created add-ons, Kodi brings all these sources together in one media center for users to enjoy.

Furthermore, Kodi reads the meta-data associated with video files so it will display box covers, descriptions, and any other information associated with the video file. In essence, Kodi is a software-based media jukebox that you hook to your television.

Is Kodi Legal?

Yes. An official install of Kodi is 100% legal. It’s essentially an extremely robust media player. Kodi, by itself, comes with no video content. That is up to the user to supply. That is also where the legal gray area begins.

Kodi may give you the means to watch any video source you have access to; but if you are watching licensed content which you didn’t purchase you are viewing pirated content. If you are viewing movies ripped from a disk that you purchase, then you paid for the content. However, if you installed an add-on that provides access to a bunch of Disney movies you didn’t pay for, then someone is breaking the law.

I’ve gotten into many a debate with various folks out there. Many think that just because they can download Kodi, install an illegal addon, and have free access to Netflix content everything is fine. It’s not. Check here for a list of Kodi approved add-ons.

The issue is compounded when dubious online sellers install Kodi on a device along with a bunch of add-ons that pirate content. They then sell it to unknowing consumers. The purchaser starts the device and assumes since they paid money to the online vendor, they are not viewing pirated content. Unfortunately, they don’t know they just bought a modified Kodi install and may be watching unlicensed content. While I don’t recommend this, the very least you should do is use a VPN to keep your traffic anonymous online. For more information, check out my detailed article on finding the best VPN service based on your needs.

For those arguing this point, Kodi seems to agree with me as they have stated:

There have been a wave of sellers who decided to make a quick buck modifying Kodi, installing broken piracy addons, advertising that Kodi lets you watch free movies and TV, and then vanishing when the user buys the box and finds out that the addon they were sold on was a crummy, constantly breaking mess. These sellers are dragging users into the world of piracy without their knowledge and at the same time convincing new users that Kodi is a buggy mess, because they never differentiate Kodi from 3rd party addons. Every day a new user shows up on the Kodi forum, totally unaware that the free movies they’re watching have been pirated and surprised to discover that Kodi itself isn’t providing those movies.

Kodi has gone on the offense on this. They are bringing legal action against those soiling their reputation. Kodi is a great media center product. I for one am pleased to see them trying to shut these guys down.

How to use Kodi?

When it comes to getting started with Kodi I strongly recommend following Kodi’s quick start guide. It has everything you need to get started. Furthermore, it is arranged as a wiki making for easy navigation. The community is great at documenting the software and answer just about any question you could have.

Kodi can be used as a fully functional media hub. That means you can install it on a computer, hook the computer to the TV, and it can handle all the streaming you require. You can install add-ons to install your favorite streaming service, but as I’ve said, you still need to subscribe to the service to remain within the law.

If you are looking to install it on a device you can connect directly to your TV; I would go with the Nvidia Shield. It’s the most powerful OTT device on the market. In addition to KODI, it runs almost every other streaming service you would want.

You can even install something like MythTV to act as a back end personal video recorder or PVR. Combining MythTV with Kodi will give you all the function of a DVR, and it’s completely DIY. Kodi even describes how to do this on their wiki.

Many users of Kodi will install it on a computer that they dedicate as a “home theater” device. While this will allow you to take advantage of just about everything Kodi has to offer, many are satisfied with using Kodi to consolidate their various streaming libraries. To that end, Kodi can be “side loaded” on an Amazon Fire TV Stick. That makes for an affordable option with Fire TV Sticks only costing $49.99 on Amazon.

This is possible on any Amazon Fire TV or Amazon Fire TV Stick.  Don’t fall for the ruse of those claiming you need to jailbreak your Fire TV Stick. It can be done with any Amazon Fire TV fresh out of the box.

Final Thoughts

While I’ve experimented with Kodi, it’s a bit of a project to manage the updates and add-ons. If you fancy yourself a bit of tech tinkerer, then Kodi should be a good fit for you. However, if you hate tinkering, you may want to go with a more commercially available solution for cutting the cord like Roku or other ways to watch TV without cable.

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Categories: Guides
Dennis Restauro :Dennis is the founder of Grounded Reason. He also hosts the Grounded Reason Podcast. Follow him on Twitter: Follow Dennis on Twitter

View Comments (60)

  • Hi, Dennis! You are absolutely correct in your interpretation of the copyright issue involved with installing some third-party add-ons and using it to access copyrighted material for which the user has paid no fees. In 2010, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) launched Operation In Our Sites, which targets online commercial intellectual property crime, including websites offering pirated movies and television shows. While my area of legal expertise is not intellectual property law, my 18 years as a federal administrative law judge has given me a pretty good handle on interpreting statutes and regulations. 17 U.S. Code, ch. 5 addresses copyright infringement and remedies. The definition is very broad and certainly inclusive of the type of "piracy" you have discussed. I echo your note of caution to users of Kodi with these types of add-ons.

    • Thank you for the reinforcement Art, I appreciate the concurrence from someone who works in the field.

  • Thank you for this article. I needed an inexpensive DVR and it sounded like Kodi was the answer. Thank you for clarifying that it can be the answer. All the other DIY DVR solutions seem to require a fairly large cash outlay which I don't have. This solution will only require me to purchase an external hard drive. At least that is what it looks like from your article.

    • Dianna,

      Kodi will work to Navigate a DVR/PVR on your TV, but you will need to have a DVR/PVR solution running for Kodi to access. The cheapest way to do this would be to install Myth TV on a PC you already own to record and store the content from OTA, then use a Fire Stick to side load Kodi and access the content.

  • Dennis,

    As always, I appreciate your posts and your blog and enjoy being able to stay up to date on all things cord-cutter.

    I always seek to stay not only legal, but also honest in my use of other people's content and services. I seek to put myself in their position and ask if they would want me to do what I'm doing. Alternatively, would I be concerned if they learned how I obtained their content. (Legal can be very technical, and things can still often be wrong even if legal.)

    So with Kodi, I'm not sure that I understand in which situations or circumstances I could use it. Are there content providers that advocate using Kodi to obtain their content? If so, who and how?

    [I feel similarly about spoofing IP addresses. It's easy enough to do, but clearly the content providers want me to go through alternative means to obtain their content. (I find this particularly frustrating when a service such as the NBC olympics is offered in an on-demand manner, say in Canada, but then isn't offered in such a way in the U.S.)]

    Thanks again for the posts, and I posted primarily to ask about specific ways to use Kodi in a manner that their content providers would like.

    Thanks,
    Pete

    • I have a question for anyone. Do u , at least, need basic cable in order to view all the movies and content on the Firestick along with Kodi? Or, can I hook it up to a TV, program Kodi, and,wallah, I can watch movies?

      • Kodi is just a media server, you will need to supply the content from other sources. To do it legally you would need to be paying for a service that provides the content, whether that be cable TV or other streaming services.

    • Peter,

      I definitely take that approach when it comes to piracy. There is a lot of people involved in the making of a show or movie that aren't well-to-do actors and actresses. When one steals content, they are stealing from electricians, set builders, drivers, and a host of other people who do very hard work for relatively little money compared to actors.

      However, I have a different view when it comes to VPNs and DNS solutions to view Geo-Blocked content. In those cases I'm still paying for the content. Those techniques are simply getting around this antiquated way of looking at commerce over the internet which imposes on my freedom to purchase the digital goods I chose. That said, I completely understand respecting licensing agreements. The topic is very nuanced and there are good points on all sides of the issue. In the end I hope a decision is made that had more to do with ethics, than money.

  • Dennis,
    As someone just learning about cutting the cable I really appreciate and value your site. Thank you for your insights! Regarding Kodi - I've been doing a lot of research online and I was just about to sideload Kodi onto my Firestick when I read on another website that Amazon has blocked the ability to download APK files as of July 6th. The author stated that when he attempted the download, ES File Explorer simply closed. I wish I remembered the website, but alas, I don't. Do you know if this is true? And if it is, is there a simple work-around? (The author mentioned something about converting it to a zip file but didn't give details.) Thanks again!

    • The method linked in the article works. It uses a host to load it, so there is no need to download it directly to the device.

  • I look at my cable bill and as much as I hate their "right" to rape me with no consequence, still it seems a ton of trouble just to watch some of the things I NEED to watch job wise(College Sports)other than cable. I am on here to find a 'simple' way to 'cut the cord' and it seems there is not one. Everything seems as much trouble as paying the criminals for the service. Here a stick there a stick everywhere a stick stick, add this, don't get caught in illegal area(if anyone knows what that is), do it this way-not that way, confusion abounding, signal interference on a continual basis, PCTV connections(?) with addons(?), WTH? The more I read the more confusing all this mess is and I regretfully pay the bill(getting bigger all the time for NO reason). I'm a duck that landed on an unfamiliar pond with a very hungry farmer that owns it, and he might come by just any day now with his own stick loaded with birdshot.

    • Oh, so beautifully and succinctly said! I agree completely, especially about the lingo and promised nearly cost/ trouble free results. Been cable free for nearly a year now, am a senior on a fixed income. I pay for 50mbps, Amazon Prime & Fire Stick, don't rent anything, recently added Showtime, &Encore, spend under $100/month.

    • Jimbo, Write your congressman to allow more competition. The corporate monopolies are the reason we are all in this mess.

  • Anyone considered a TiVo Roamio DVR in lieu of a PC with Myth TV or similar? (newer 1 Tb model supposedly has no monthly subscription fee like practically all the other TiVo DVRs). I don't want a PC in my TV/entertainment area, but want streaming + OTA content more or less consolidated in one on-screen "guide". I don't want to search within each streaming service to find what I want to watch.

  • OK, Im not gonna lie. Im not a moron, but Im a true neophyte. You referenced: "Check here for a list of Kodi approved add ons." If one uses these approved add ons, is there still a risk of piracy? I'm confused how to tell, when one may be using pirated material. If there is no way to tell, it's probably just not worth risking it.

  • Hey Dennis- great info on everything I have reviewed to date. Thank you for the plain language and "grounded" advice.

    Question- I, too, am getting ready to pull the plug on my cable. To that end, if I am using a streaming service like the DirectvNow coupled with Fire Stick and/or Roku plus an external antenna to get all my local network channels and add Amazon Prime, will installing Kodi display all those options together in one easy interface so that I don't have to continuously change the input to watch content from those different sources?

    Thanks, much in advance!

    • TiVo OTA does that! I have Amazon Prime, my local networks over the air (OTA) like ABC, CBS, FOX, & NBC, plus Hulu and Netflix. TiVo puts it all in one place.

  • Thanks much for posting a plain English article. This retired old lady is learning quite a bit and love my firestick! Also love Trakt.tv for organizing movies and tv shows. One awakening I discovered is that the old shows were not in HD - so sometimes an episode will have problems, but very few. Thanks again.

  • Hi Dennis,

    I have unfortunately become my father's tech support as regards his Slingboxes. Sling has terrible customer service and I'm trying to find an alternative for him. We pay for cable and he uses the Slingboxes abroad to access our DVR'ed programs. Switching boxes is out of the question, as we would lose the saved material (there's way more than any normal person should ever have). Would Kodi be a way for him to access specifically our current cable boxes in the same vein as Sling? Additionally, what are the odds Kodi is operable in China, his current address for business?

    Thank you so much!

    Bethany

    • Sorry Bethany, I don't have any experience using SlingBox on a cable box and can't really give any advice on China.

    • Anything promising to watch shows you would normally pay for a one time fee is dubious. I'd use caution.

  • Great article Dennis!
    So basically me buying an unlocked FireStick online that is loaded with Kodi on it for $85 a stick sounds to be illegal once I would use it. Correct?

    • Not exactly, and that's where the grey area comes into play. Kodi is simply a tool that allows you to watch media. It's how one uses Kodi that brings legality into question. A good analogy is "You can go to the hardware store and buy a hammer and use it to frame a house, but if you hit someone with the hammer you would be charged with assault." Kodi is a hammer, and as long as you watch content you own or subscribe to then you are fine. However, if someone installed un-official plug-ins on Kodi that provides un-licensed content, then you are treading in a legal grey area.

  • Hello everyone. Love this guy. Now just FYI for everyone interested, I have what has worked for years to turn your computer into a PVR using its hard drive. I use ADVER MEDIA Volar Hybrid Q. These can be had for as little as $20 & retail for $49 from ADVER. I use a 2 outside antenas that are over 30 years old that came from my father. One is VHF & one is UHF. Tied together with a 75 Ohm coax type connection. I get 38 channels OTA & it will allow KODI to run with it. Mine is for windows 7 just be sure you get one that matches your computer. My bill is 0 & if we could just get a break from the internet guys all could be fine.

  • This article was very helpful, thank you so much! I have had so much trouble trying to understand this whole fire stick/kodi thing (and I like to think I am pretty tech-savvy). My question to you is you mention that you have to purchase the content for it to be legal and you give a list of Kodi-approved addons. I assume the addons cost money, then? Is that a one time fee for each or are they reoccurring payments, and about how much can I expect to pay for those? Again, thank you so much!

    • It's just like any online streaming service like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes or any other service. Kodi is really meant to consolidate all your in home and online media in one place. It's just so powerful and flexible, many use it to watch unlicensed content.

  • I puchased a fire stick loaded w Kodie . After a few weeks I received E MAIL from my cable saying that I have been sited 5 times for claim of COPYRIGHT INFRINGMENT . Thats all it said nothing about legal action . Now what?

  • Dennis, I just ordered a Kodi Box from "Best Buy Today" on line yesterday. Is it legal?

    • It really depends on what plugins are loaded. Were they offering "free TV shows and movies" that you would normally need to buy?

  • To my knowledge, no fully-loaded box seller, or end-user-consumer of content from unofficial add-ons has ever been charged with ANY crime (here in the good ol' USA anyways.) The only people I've ever heard about getting in any legal trouble were those downloading content to save on their hard drive while also sharing that content with others using Torrents. If you're only streaming (not saving a copy) content, you're not going to get in ANY trouble (at least as the law stands today.) There's one instance of streaming that is a legal gray area and that is the issue with using certain add-ons that utilize peer-to-peer torrenting (most add-ons do NOT use this technique.)

    • Andrew, My point is that the law hasn't been tested here. It just takes one judges interpretation of the law to land someone in jail or with a fine.

  • My kids keep asking me about Kodi app because their friends are watching movies that are still in the theater. Isn't this the illegal aspect you are talking about? Not tech savvy but still need to know. I have explained to them it's like the Kodi is a DVD player we buy, but the movies to watch we also have to purchase.

    • Ethically, yes you are correct. However, it's not technically illegal in the U.S. yet because no one has been charged, but it only takes one judges interpretation of the law to make it illegal. It's a legal grey area because you aren't keeping a copy when you stream. However, someones intellectual property is being watched without compensation. Like they say, if you have a victim, you have a crime. The law will eventually catch up.

  • I am still confused. If you watch films still in the move house is this pirated films you are watching? I subscribe to Net.
    flix. Does Kodi give me more choices on recent films still in the theater?. I do not support stolen material.

    • Yes, those are pirated. Kodi doesn't give you any content. It's a media aggregator. People write Add-Ons for Kodi that allow people to watch pirated content.

  • Can Kodi be used to stream music from my Mac to a Silvercrest wi-fi adapter

  • Author recommends a VPN, lord only know who the VPN is reporting data to. People need to stop acting like a VPN is a silver bullet. It's not.

  • If we have Directv on our tv in our living room and bedroom but not on the other tvs in our children's room, could they use the Kodi on their tvs with no problems from Directv?

  • Hi, name's Herman...I'd like to thank you Mr. Restauro for your vast knowledge of the article I've

    just read, very informative indeed.

    I too am exploring other less expensive alternatives for "Cutting the Wire". My wife and I spend over 230.00 a month on cable bill alone.

    I truly believe if I hadn't of ask "Google", " What is Kodi to amazon fire stick" I'm so sure I would of
    made a mistake and probably would of enlisted "None Legitimate Add On" that would of gotten me in potential trouble, Thanks Again :)

    Cheers,
    Herman C.

  • Can I use it to watch Directv? I’m on the road a few days and can’t watch the video on a TV from the DirecTV app, would this allow me to watch it on a TV?

    • You don't need Kodi for that. Just get the DirecTV app for your device.

  • Hi - I’m one of those people who is always busy around the house but I like to always have ‘live’ tv running while I’m working just to have something on to listen to. Does the Kodi app allow you to run ‘live’ tv the same way cable does?

  • I updated my kodi to the 17.1 it seems so different then what i was running before. Says i have to add movies to the list opposed to before i updated it all the movies and categories showed i didnt have to type anything. I started looking online reading and got scared about all the “illegal stuff” so i unplugged it and took it out from my tv. Can the internet provider still see that i had it even though i didnt stream or watch anything all i did was update it.
    I cant unlink my amazon account or erase my IP from it. I dont want to download anything else. Am i safe and okay?

    • If you didn't watch any content, then you are fine. Kodi is a legal media player. It's the content people scrape with unauthorized plug-ins that may cause legal problems.