A seller of "fully loaded" Kodi boxes has been sentenced to a suspended 18-month prison term in a court case that has set a legal precedent for the retail of 'pirate' media players in the UK.
Middlesborough businessman, Brian Thompson, was sentenced on Friday (20 October) alongside another local seller, Julian Allen, who faces 21 months in jail. Both men had their sentences suspended for two years.
"If anyone was under any illusion as to whether such devices as these, fully loaded Kodi boxes, were illegal or not, they can no longer be in any such doubt," Judge Armstrong told the Teesside Crown Court, reports Gazette Live.
"I've come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances an immediate custodial sentence is not called for. But as a warning to others in future, they may not be so lucky."
Thompson's independent retail store Cutprice Tomo TVs was raided by police in 2015. In the ensuing case brought by Middlesborough Council, Thompson was charged for facilitating the circumvention of copyright protection by selling TV media streaming boxes "fully loaded" with Kodi add-ons.
During the hearing, Prosecutor Cameron Crowe said that Thompson had made upwards of £40,000 between July 2015 and January 2016. Crowe also estimated that Thompson's venture may have cost broadcaster Sky as much as £200,000 in lost subscription fees.
Black, white and grey
Prior to the verdict, Thompson's position came under intense legal scrutiny, with the outcome expected to determine whether selling media devices with pre-installed software providing pirated content and/or paid-for streaming services for free is a criminal offence in the UK.
The somewhat unsurprising answer is yes, however the journey to that conclusion still leaves a few lingering questions, and the root cause of the uncertainty are the charges originally leveled against Thompson.
Back in April, the European Court of Justice ruled in that the sale of modified media streaming devices designed to access pirate content is illegal. While a legal precedent was set for the sale of 'Kodi boxes' in the EU, Thompson's case wasn't as clear cut.
Thompson was charged for selling devices "designed, produced or adapted for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of effective technological measures," a section of UK law originally designed to cover encryption standards.
While the ECJ's verdict specifically addressed media players modified to stream copyright-protected works, the legal grey surrounding Thompson's charges originally convinced the Teeside local to plead not guilty, stating "I want it in black and white," in September 2016.
Fast forward a year to this September, and Thompson altered his plea to guilty, effectively ending any doubt surrounding the case's inevitable conclusion this past Friday.
So... is Kodi legal?
While the case once again calls into question the adequacy of the UK's copyright laws when it comes to digital media - a scenario the government's Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is currently examining - the final verdict paves the way for further prosecution of 'fully loaded' Kodi box sellers in the UK.
The rise of Kodi is unlikely to stop overnight, however. Recent estimates suggest that over one million set-top boxes designed to stream pirated content have been sold in the UK in the last two years.
As for Kodi itself, while the brand has become synonymous with modern piracy, the software is still entirely legal.