AN ONLINE trader is believed to be the first person in Britain to be prosecuted for selling Android TV boxes that allow the free viewing of Premiership football matches.
Brian Thompson, 54, is being taken to court by trading standards officers from Middlesbrough Council.
The dealer, who sells under the name Cut Price Tomo’s TV, says he will fight the case, which centres around the use of so-called Kodi boxes.
Are they against the law?
A court will have to decide whether Mr Thompson was doing anything illegal. But the use of Kodi is not in itself illegal.
What is Kodi anyway?
Kodi is a piece of free software that plays media - movies, TV shows, photos and music. There are versions for Windows, Macs, Android and Apple phones and tablets. You can download it freely from the Android and Windows stores, and from Kodi’s own website.
That seems above board, then?
Perfectly. The problem - if any - arises with the type of content you choose to play. By default, Kodi connects to legal sharing sites such as YouTube, the BBC iPlayer and your own video library, if you have one. It then “scrapes” an online database of information about movies and TV shows, and matches any titles it finds. This lets it display details of plot lines, actors and directors in a visually attractive format.
So far, so good. What’s the problem, then?
The Android version of Kodi has become popular for installing on standalone set-top boxes that connect to your TV via an HDMI cable - the so-called Kodi Boxes. Most of these come from China and are effectively mini-computers. These are also, in themselves, perfectly legal -.
However, they are commonly sold on sites such as Ebay, bundled with “unofficial” Kodi add-ons that can stream content from a variety of online sites - content which normally has to be paid for. This might include premium sports, movies and pay-per-view TV shows, which has generally been posted by other users. The developers of Kodi have disowned such use.
Is THAT legal, then?
The law will have to decide three things:
• Is it legal for users to post other people’s content online?
• Is it legal for other users to access such content?
• Is it legal for traders to sell “Kodi Boxes” specifically for the purpose of watching TV that is not intended to be free?
Brian Thompson’s case may set a precedent for others. If he loses, officials will find it easier to outlaw the sale of Kodi Boxes. If he wins, the boxes will be effectively legal.
Mr Thompson says the case may go all the way to the European court.