A landmark court case targeting copyright infringement on Kodi has prompted the closure of a growing number of pirate add-ons. The US lawsuit has left the Kodi community in shock, with many unaware how to fix a growing number of defunct add-ons which stream TV shows, movies and sport for free.
Enter "Kodi repair men", a breakout industry that is cashing-in on add-on woes by offering easy fixes to befuddled "Kodi box" owners. The repair services, which are commonly advertised on Facebook and other social media platforms, appear to offer home call-outs where the "repairmen" get said boxes back up and running - all for a small fee.
Spotted online by TorrentFreak, the unsanctioned, unofficial Kodi repairmen are allegedly the same people turning a profit from selling Kodi boxes in the first place.
These so-called Kodi boxes are streaming devices - such as Roku or Amazon Fire stick gadgets that plug-into a TV - that come pre-loaded with add-ons to stream premium on-demand content without a subscription fee.
Despite being illegal to sell this type of device, commonly referred to as "fully loaded Kodi boxes", said streaming sticks have quickly become commonplace on online re-seller sites such as eBay and Gumtree, and in some independent high street electrical stores.
From the perspective of a Kodi box buyer expecting a seamless "fully loaded" experience, an add-on which breaks - due to external legal action or of an extension developer's own volition - is broken for good, unless they do a little research - and that's where the aforementioned "Kodi repairmen" have found a niche market.
As well as the social media advertisements, TorrentFreak also discovered that the word-of-mouth popularity that served Kodi so well has also extended to these "repairmen". The site's reporter claims to have overheard in a "local pub" that a "guy is now touring pubs" and either using a laptop to fix punters' devices, or swapping non-working Kodi-installed Fire Sticks with a new fully loaded device.
"The whole thing takes about 15 to 20 mins and is conveniently carried out while having a drink," reads the report, with the laptop repair costing just £20, and the Fire Stick swap setting presumably happy customers back £40.
Kodi in crisis
For an idea of how far the Kodi box craze has spread, statistics have shown that 4.9 million adults regularly use IPTV devices to illegally stream video content in the UK. In recent months, major online retailers, anti-piracy organisations, the Premier League, and the EU courts have all taken steps to clamp down on the retail and use of pre-configured IPTV boxes, but Kodi's popularity and spread has continued to grow regardless.
However, a US lawsuit targeting add-on Zem TV and extension library TVAddons has plunged the Kodi piracy surge and its dedicated community into chaos. Filed by Dish Network, the ongoing case accuses the two of enabling copyright infringement on its services.
Dish Network is asking for $150,000 in damages and was recently granted permission to subpoena Amazon, Github, Google, Twitter, Facebook, PayPal, and a number of other platforms to obtain the add-on creators' full identities.
The lawsuit's impact has spread beyond the two accused parties, with popular piracy-friendly Kodi extension Phoenix among several dozen third-party add-ons shuttered by its creators over fears of similar legal and financial penalties.
A knock-on effect to this mass add-on shutdown has been confusion by the less-savvy Kodi box owners. While piracy and the internet have a long and storied past, Kodi represents an odd case when compared to previous favourites such as torrents and peer-to-peer sharing.
Cashing-in on quick Kodi fixes
In basic terms, the "fully loaded Kodi boxes" that are being illegally sold are often advertised as a simple, no-nonsense gateway to free premium video content - one fee, hundreds of streams, no fuss.
The reality is a little different, however. XBMC Foundation's open-source Kodi software is essentially an ecosystem for add-ons developed by third-parties - including many legal ones. When an add-on goes offline or a streaming link is disabled - either legal or otherwise - it is down to the developer to fix it, or link new live streams.
Internet pirates are fully accustomed to this, of course, and are often eager and knowledgeable enough to find add-on updates, workarounds, or know where to find another add-on that will stream what they want.
While it may only be a matter of time before Kodi add-ons go completely 'legit' - a situation that Kodi's creators are actively pursuing - it appears that the rise of shady cottage industries that capitalise on the naivety of many Kodi box buyers will continue until that time finally comes.