Landmark loaded Kodi box trial dissolves with guilty plea

The defendant, a seller of fully-loaded Kodi boxes, had chosen not to fight his charges.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The question as to whether "fully-loaded" Kodi boxes are legal, or illegal, seems to have been answered in part this week.

Brian Thompson, from Middlesbrough, UK, was raided in 2015 by law enforcement over the sale of Kodi boxes.

The 54-year-old was charged with two criminal counts of selling devices "designed, produced or adapted for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of effective technological measures," as reported by local media Gazette Live.

The problem lies in the Kodi box itself. While Kodi is a legal way to stream content from online sources, many use the software to load illegal add-ons which can give them access to the latest movies, television shows, and music for free, all while bypassing geolocation and copyright restrictions.

Using Kodi in this way is illegal, but it is a way to access intellectual property for free and without the technical know-how required for torrenting.

As such, so-called "fully-loaded" Kodi boxes, complete with popular add-ons pre-installed for this type of content, can be found online quickly -- and cheaply, with many enthusiastic buyers out there.

It is not surprising that some people would take advantage of this market to make some extra cash by buying cheap Android dongles or boxes, loading up Kodi, installing such add-ons, and then selling them on for a higher price tag.

However, whether this practice is legal or not has been a gray area. At least, until now.

According to UK intellectual property law, the counts are based on whether a "person commits an offence if he -- in the course of a business -- sells or lets for hire, any device, product or component which is primarily designed, produced, or adapted for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of effective technological measures."

Between July 2015 and January 2016, Thompson sold fully-loaded Kodi boxes under the company name Cutprice Tomo TVs in the UK. Middlesbrough Council brought a case against the seller, claiming the sale of such items was illegal, leading to property confiscation by Trading Standards and charges by law enforcement.

After originally pleading not guilty to criminal acts, the question of fully-loaded Kodi box legality was due to be answered in a landmark battle before Judge Peter Armstrong at Teesside Crown Court.

Thompson originally planned to fight the charges, saying to reporters that all he wanted to know "is whether I am doing anything illegal."

"I know it's a gray area but I want it in black and white," Thompson added.

However, in a surprising turn of events, the Kodi dealer has chosen to plead guilty to both charges under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.

The publication reports that defense barrister Paul Fleming told the court there had been an "exchange of correspondence" relating to the case, and "there is a proposal in relation to pleas which are acceptable to the prosecution."

The case has now been adjourned to 20 October and Thompson's bail has been renewed.

"I don't know what the sentence will be but all options will be open to the court when you're dealt with," Armstrong said. "Free to go on those terms."

The judge doesn't know what the sentence will be, and as the first person in the United Kingdom to be charged for selling fully-loaded Kodi boxes, Thompson's case -- and decision to plead guilty -- may foreshadow the fate of future custom Kodi box sellers in the country.

It appears that the add-ons, as a way to circumvent location restrictions and IP laws, are at the heart of the charges, although it seems to be somewhat of a tenuous connection.

Could you then face the same charges for selling a laptop with torrent software, for example, as it to could be used to find and acquire -- although not stream -- pirated content? Going further, using a browser to connect to the Internet itself to steam content without authorization could also be under the same umbrella, perhaps.

While the latter seems farfetched, the case does highlight that UK laws surrounding IP are clashing with technological innovation, and it appears that laws never designed for the kind of technology, systems, and services available to us today are now being used to charge individuals in areas which are murky and gray when it comes to legality.

Now that Thompson has pleaded guilty, this may set a precedent in which this particular law will now be used to clamp down on fully-loaded Kodi box sales.

Whether it stops there, however, remains to be seen.

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