Christmas and Copyrights

My brother is pretty good with technology, and my parents are not. But while my parents have no love for computers and code, they do have a love that my brother and I share: movies. So my brother had the idea that we should team up to give them a movie-related Christmas gift. It’s a streaming box that, he says, will let my parents watch a ton of movies for free.

Now, I’m not as tech-savvy as my brother, but I did some Googling and I’m a little wary of the thing he’s buying. It uses Kodi, which I’m not sure is legal, and it doesn’t seem as legit as some of the other streaming boxes around. But my brother insists that this is the one to get, because he knows how to customize it, and it’s very important to him that our gift be unique. I feel like I’m in a jam here–I don’t want to give my parents an illegal gift! Can you help me figure this out?

You’re right to be concerned! Media piracy remains a big issue for filmmakers, musicians, and other artists. While it’s tough to come up with reliable numbers on just how damaging things are (Hollywood says the issue costs them $58 billion, but that figure is questionable), it’s clear that losses are in the billions or tens of billions of dollars. And while some of us still associate piracy primarily with illegal downloads, the reality is that most piracy is now done through streaming services of the sort your brother appears to be referring to. Out of the 78.5 billion times pirated content was accessed in 2015, 73.7% of those times involved streaming services. Downloading content with torrents and other methods is now (comparatively, at least) rare.

Is Kodi one of these illegal services? It is not, actually, but the truth is slightly complicated. Kodi is completely legal, but it has a long and complicated history with illegal streaming. Kodi started as a media center application designed for the original Xbox console. It is an open-source program, meaning it’s easy for developers to create their own compatible programs for it. That means lots of “add-ons,” which expand what Kodi can do–sometimes, unfortunately, into the realm of illegal streaming. Kodi eventually got wise to the ways in which this was hurting their brand, and they’ve taken steps to curtail these illegal add-ons. But there are still some shady companies out there that are willing to add legal programs–like the Android TV platform and Kodi–in with illegal services on shady devices, which they then ship out to folks like your brother. From the sounds of things, the device your brother is considering is indeed illegal.

Thankfully, there are a lot of legal streaming boxes out there from companies like Roku, Amazon, Google, and Apple. In some cases, you can even add Kodi to these devices (without the illegal add-ons, that is). Experts say that 38.9 million people will use a Roku device at least once a month in 2017, so these are certainly popular picks. Are these customizable enough for your brother’s taste? If not, maybe he should consider building your parents a custom media center PC (be careful, though, that he doesn’t return to illegal options if he does so). Or maybe the simplest thing to do is to avoid this issue entirely and go with a different kind of unique gift. The pros at Unique Christmas Gifts were quick to remind us that customizing and personalizing gifts is easy to do–and the artisans and tradespeople that create the products on the internet’s many custom and handmade gift sites will actually get paid, unlike the people who made the movies your other gift would steal!

“Love the giver more than the gift.” –Brigham Young