If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And Kodi boxes sound way too good to be true, offering unlimited free TV and movies for life after purchasing a single piece of hardware.

If you bought one and it’s not working right now, and I’ve got some bad news for you. To start:

  1. You’ve been pirating movies and TV shows this entire time. I’m sincerely sorry if you didn’t realize that. (Many of you probably did.)
  2. Your box isn’t working because copyright owners are systematically shutting down the sites these piracy tools stream content from, and the Kodi add-ons that collect the streams.
  3. It’s going to be a real pain to get the setup you had back up and running, and maintaining it will mean joining a never ending game of cat-and-mouse.
  4. The box you purchased probably isn’t worth much more than $30 in terms of hardware. If you paid more than that, you were seriously ripped off, especially considering that any work the seller did setting up will need to be constantly redone by you to keep it working.

Again, I’m sorry if you’re hearing any of this from me for the first time. But before you run to Twitter or Facebook to demand that Kodi give you a refund, I’ve got to tell you something else: you didn’t buy this box from Kodi.

Kodi Doesn’t Sell Boxes

Kodi is not a company that sells hardware. It’s an open source software project, a team of volunteers that builds a very good video player for computers and phones. It is intended to be used for video files you store on  your computer, but the Kodi software also supports add-ons, simple scripts that give access to all sorts of content online. Anyone can create add-ons for Kodi.

RELATED: Kodi Is Not a Piracy Application

On its own, Kodi is not a piracy app—it’s just a very good video player, with no content bulit-in. But there are third-party add-ons that offer pirated content. As a result, a vast number of individuals, along with sketchy fly-by-night companies, have started selling “Kodi Boxes,” both online and sometimes even in kiosks in shopping malls. Generally these are dirt cheap computers, similar to the Raspberry Pi, set up to boot into Kodi. The Kodi offered is “fully loaded,” which means it has a variety of third-party piracy add-ons included.

So why do the boxes stop working? Because piracy add-ons have been systematically targeted by lawyers representing Hollywood in the past few months, and many of the add-on makers have agreed to shut their projects down, as this article explains.

This tweet is from the maintainer of urlresolver, a tool that made it possible for all sorts of piracy add-ons to find illegal streams of TV shows and movies. It is no longer being maintained due to legal threats. This is why so many piracy add-ons stopped working in November, and a similar fate will eventually meet any replacements that pop up. Maintaining a “fully loaded” Kodi box means constantly researching which add-ons work right now, finding safe places to install them from, and doing it all again a few months later when they inevitably break.

Download My “Fully Loaded” Chrome

You might argue this is still Kodi’s fault: after all, they allow the third party add-ons to run on their platform, and they allow the third party companies to sell these fully loaded boxes. But it’s really not that simple.

Think of it this way: Google Chrome is built on open source software, meaning anyone can make their own version of it. There are also lots of websites that offer illegal streams of popular TV shows, movies, and even live sports (or so I’ve heard).

I could easily offer a “Fully Loaded Chrome.” All I’d have to do is change the default bookmarks to point to piracy sites, maybe add some sketchy extensions to show you ads (and make me money), and I could legitimately claim to offer “Chrome With Free Access To TV, Movies, And Sports.”

It would make me a terrible person. But I could do it.

And this is basically what the companies and people selling Kodi Boxes are doing, and there’s not a lot Kodi can do about it. If they tried to block the piracy extensions, the pirates will simply fork the Kodi code and remove that change (remember, Kodi is open source, which means anyone can grab the code and make their own version of the software).

It sucks, but the only way Kodi can kill these boxes is to convince people to stop buying them. Kodi has been trying to do just that. To quote a recent blog post by the team:

Here’s the reality: if your mates are spending hundreds on something per year, and you can get it for free – If it looks too good to be true – yeah, it probably is too good to be true. You make your own choices.

If you buy a fully loaded Kodi box, you are pirating content, and as such, you can’t really expect it to keep working long-term. It’s not a real product with a company supporting it. It’s a sketchy back-alley operation built on the hard work of a legitimate team.

There’s No Such Thing As a Free Lunch

If you didn’t know your Kodi box was pirating movies and TV shows, I believe you, and I don’t blame you for buying one. Free content sounds like a great deal.

I used to work in IT, helping consumers with their personal devices. Once, I had a customer complaining that her internet stopped working on her laptop. I connected the device to our in-shop Wi-Fi network and everything seemed fine, so I assumed the problem was with her router.

“What kind of router do you have?” I asked.

She looked at me blankly.

“What’s a router?” she asked.

“It’s what delivers the internet to your house,” I explained, then tried to follow up. “Who do you pay for internet access?”

“I don’t pay for internet access,” she told me. “I use The Linksys.”

If you haven’t figured it out, this person was stealing her neighbor’s unprotected Wi-Fi, named “linksys”, and had no idea. She thought there was some free service out there, called “The Linksys,” that gave Internet access to people. And to be fair, in a world where things like Gmail and Facebook are free, it’s not that much of a stretch for non-techies to believe this.

If you purchased a Kodi box, it’s possible you’re in the same boat. You think you found some sort of clever loophole, a way to get free access to something others have to pay for.

You haven’t. You’ve found a tool that makes pirating media slightly easier, and now that tool has broken. I don’t blame you for buying such a device: it really does sound like a good deal. But now that you know, and you should probably stop stealing your neighbor’s Wi-Fi. You can’t be surprised when it eventually stops working.

What to Use Instead of Piracy Add-Ons

Your Kodi box doesn’t need piracy add-ons to be useful. Kodi is a powerful piece of software for browsing local videos, for example, and you can do things like watch live TV with an antenna if you’re willing to put in some effort.

If that’s not what you want, you should look into streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, or even online TV packages like Sling TV. It’s not going to be free, but it’s cheaper than cable, and it’s the only legal way to watch most content online as of this writing.

RELATED: Which Roku Should I Buy? Express vs. Stick vs. Stick+ vs. Ultra

Sadly, Kodi isn’t great at this sort of legal online streaming. There’s no consistent way to watch Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video, for example, and even YouTube can be tricky to keep working. So if Kodi isn’t what you’re looking for, and you want access to streaming videos online, we recommend you buy an inexpensive Roku device and use that for Netflix, Sling, or other online video.

Photo credit:  Syafiq Adnann/Shutterstock.com

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Justin Pot has been writing about technology for over a decade, with work appearing in Digital Trends, The Next Web, Lifehacker, MakeUseOf, and the Zapier Blog. He also runs the Hillsboro Signal, a volunteer-driven local news outlet he founded.
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