By: Ruth Vitale
We have a long and frustrating history on piracy and other copyright matters with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). We’ve said it before – EFF sometimes does good work. That’s what makes their predictable intransigence about piracy so incredibly frustrating and tiresome.
Recently, EFF weighed in against efforts by the creative community around the globe to address the piracy challenge posed by the sale of piracy devices “pre-loaded” with apps that facilitate streaming piracy on a massive scale. The EFF’s comments on streaming piracy devices and apps prompted an article, published on tech website ZDNet, that can most generously be called “poorly researched.”
First, some background on these streaming piracy devices and apps.
These devices are usually Android-based media players that use “Kodi” software, an open-source video platform that can be used to access and organize the user’s content – from family photos and home videos, to digital music, to favorite videos from YouTube and other streaming content platforms.
In addition to organizing your media library, Kodi-enabled devices can also be loaded with other applications called “add-ons.”
Here’s where the problem begins – and, unfortunately, the reason why the popularity of Kodi’s software has skyrocketed.
These add-ons are similar to the Netflix app and other apps on your Roku, Firestick, Chromecast, or Apple TV. But here are where the similarities end: many add-ons for the Kodi software facilitate access to pirated content. Bad guys load these apps onto Kodi boxes, which they sell – typically for a few hundred dollars. And here’s the kicker: Some of these streaming piracy apps have the gall to require users to pay additional subscription fees! Fees that go to criminals and not the creative community for their work.
A “fully-loaded” Kodi box (or similar device) gives the purchaser access to pirated live broadcast, cable, and satellite channels, as well as streaming of huge libraries of stolen on-demand content. It’s a virtual treasure trove of pirated television, movies, sports, and news from all over the world.
How does Kodi feel about this? Kodi has publicly condemned use of their software for piracy. However, Kodi doesn’t police its ecosystem the way Apple and others do.
With that background, let’s look at the article. First, it states that Kodi “software, used to stream content including films and television shows, began as XMBC back in 2012.” Nope. Kodi actually traces its roots to 2003, almost ten years earlier. We’ll give them a pass on this first misstep because we’ve all made typos. However, from this point forward, the fact distortion truly begins.
The ZDNET article then refers to Kodi as “obscure software.” Nope. Not so obscure. Kodi-enabled devices are being used in as many as 15 percent of homes in the U.K. and six percent of homes in North America. And we know that the web site TVAddOns, perhaps the most popular aggregator of the aforementioned piracy add-ons, received an estimated 40 million unique visitors as recently as March 2017.
Forty million? Hmm. So, what’s YOUR definition of “obscure”?
Despite clear evidence of the size of the problem, the EFF then goes on to attack enforcement efforts to curb all this piracy. They hang their hat on the ever-popular “slippery slope” argument, asserting that enforcement against streaming piracy using existing legal tools threatens a full-scale shutdown of the internet – or as their website histrionically calls it, “The War on General-Purpose Computing.” What??
And, of course, they rabidly jump to the defense of pirates. They argue that a U.K. resident charged with selling devices “designed … for the purpose of enabling … the circumvention of effective technological measures,” merely “sold fully loaded Kodi boxes but was not involved in any copying or distribution of the illegal material himself.” And hey, if the people he sold it to used it exactly the way he built it to work and encouraged them to do, why’s that his fault?
Oh, by the way, that guy in the U.K. pleaded guilty. Guess it was his fault.
Then, the EFF predictably leaps to the defense of TVAddOns – or, as they like to call, it, “the TVAddOns community.” You know them – they’re the cousins of “the Pirate Bay community.”
The EFF argues that the majority of add-ons hosted by TVAddOns are not illegal and don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright. We don’t know if that assertion is correct, but we’ve all heard this kind of argument before. If the guy selling Swatch watches has nine real ones and one fake one in his case, and almost everyone who comes in buys the fake one from him, is he innocent because he has nine real ones? Nope. He’s not.
And, of course, if the 40 million visitors who are part of the TVAddOns “community” don’t really want to pirate anything, they probably wouldn’t have any use for this handy guide – offering tips on how to avoid being caught viewing pirated content.
I’m pretty sure the gang at the EFF reads TorrentFreak. But maybe they missed this April 17, 2017 post:
While Kodi itself is a neutral platform, millions of people use third-party add-ons to turn it into the ultimate pirate machine.
TVAddOns is [one] of the largest repositories of these plugins.
So as we said, the EFF does some good work. They are effective advocates on important issues for internet users. But they are blind – willfully blind – to piracy.
Why? We’re going to guess that it has something to do with their funders, which include Google?
As we all know, Google has a piracy problem. Their search results deliver you to pirate websites. Their Google Drive platform hosts tons of pirated content. YouTube, which they own, does the same. And while they talk a good game about their efforts to combat piracy, they have a loooooooooooooooooooong way to go.
The truth is that Google, and the EFF for that matter, could care less about Kodi, TVAddOns, or the “communities” they’re purporting to defend – they care solely about protecting their business models. So why is the EFF blindly supporting criminals?
We can only guess that it’s because Google told them to do so.