It's never been easier to "cut the cord" with cable TV. Devices like the Amazon Fire Stick provide plenty of viewing options.
But we verified the software that delivers the data has a few holes, and the debate about hacking the Fire Stick has started its own firestorm.
A few tweaks, sometimes mistakenly referred to as "jailbreaking," allows users to download media players like Kodi, then download a few add-ons, which gives them access to stream pirated material – including movies that are still in theaters!
The phrase is popular among owners. But what's really going on?
The videos are all over YouTube – step-by-step instructions that tell you where to look and what to click to gain access to a whole new world of entertainment.
Since this seems beyond the scope of what the device is "supposed" to be able to do, we wanted to verify: Is it illegal to download Kodi on a Fire Stick?
To find out, we contacted Special Agent Vicki Anderson with the FBI, Kit Walsh with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Morgan Reed, President of the App Association and Amazon itself.
The FBI immediately told us, "stealing prosecuted material is illegal, but it's usually prosecuted civilly."
Morgan Reed from the App Association says downloading Kodi is fine and adds “Kodi is a great home theater platform at its core. The problem is people have been loading software that is designed almost exclusively for the theft of other people's music and movies.”
PC World defines "jailbreaking" as hacking devices to bypass restrictions that would prevent you from running "unauthorized" software or making other tweaks to your operating system. The instructional video we watched didn't appear to hack anything.
“It's not technically illegal to install that software on a fire stick,” Reed said. “It's how you do it, what tools did you use, and what is the purpose of those tools.”
Kit Walsh from The EFF says Kodi's software is not the problem. If you download copyrighted material, like the new movie Wonder Woman, you're in trouble. If you "stream" the material, you might be in trouble. The law clearly states "reproduction, distribution and performance" of the material is illegal. It's a grey area, though, if you're just viewing.
And Walsh points out: Kodi gives you access to a lot of "legal" content, too. So what does Amazon – the "manufacturer" of the Fire Stick – have say about all this? Absolutely nothing
But Reed sums it up best.
“The question you've really got to ask yourself if you want to know if it’s legal or not, well, are you stealing somebody's stuff? If you are, it's probably illegal,” he said.
So is it illegal to download Kodi on your Fire Stick?
No, it is not. And that's verified.
Now I finally sent an email to Amazon asking if the reason they weren't commenting is they knew part of the reason fire sticks were so popular is because of how people were using them, and they wouldn't want to comment publicly. Still no response.
- Special Agent Vicki Anderson with the FBI
- Kit Walsh with the Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Morgan Reed, President of the App Association
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