These Android boxes that threaten pay-TV channels

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Android boxes are not well known to the general public and are gaining in popularity. And it is understandable why these multimedia boxes equipped with the latest versions of Android are sold at very attractive prices. They connect to your television (HDMI) and allow you to transform it into a connected TV. An ideal alternative for those who do not wish to invest in a Smart TV. So far nothing very bad, the problem is that some of these boxes sold on Amazon or Chinese shops are delivered with dubious “pirate” applications and extensions. The Hadopi Commission logically took charge of the case.

Pay-TV channels and VOD services under threat?

These multimedia boxes, which are in a way Apple TVs running under android, are most often equipped with the KODI application or one of its forks. If the player also known as XBMC is a completely neutral and legal program, compatible add-ons developed by third parties are less so.

Android boxes are most often delivered with a completely modified KODI and “optimized” for viewing pirate content. These third-party extensions installed in KODI are in most cases tools that aggregate the different sources of content already illegally offered on the web.

The most popular are, as you can imagine, those that allow pay-TV channels, films or series to be viewed through the sources mentioned above. These are most often streaming or torrent download sites for movies and series. The case of pay channels is a different matter, but the principle remains the same: extensions recover streams or lists of P2P (peer-to-peer) or IPTV channels on sites that are not very popular with rights holders.

It is difficult for the moment to assess the loss of revenue for television channels that are multiplying one-off promotional offers (Canal +, Bein, SFR Sport) to attract users who might be interested in these pirate boxes. In general, the flows recovered via the extensions of the android boxes are unstable and or of poor quality, so television channels have no short-term fears to have. Users will prefer to spend a few extra euros on a subscription to a stable service and above all a quality after-sales service.

Nevertheless, if box sales continue to grow, more and more users will wonder whether a “Fully Loaded” box, as we say in the jargon, can replace a subscription to a VOD service.

Hadopi: yet another sword strike in the water?

For the moment, the High Authority mainly targets with its graduated response system “pirates” watching P2P content (streaming or downloading Torrents). It may be that a system of flat-rate fines (more dissuasive?) will be put in place, which means more repression. The problem is that Internet users have already found the answer for a long time by simply going to streaming sites, the same ones used by KODI extensions. Moreover, the offer is so wide that when a site closes, two new sites immediately replace it.

Hadopi may face the same problem for Box Kodi, pirate extensions are far too numerous and when one stops working, clones are created.

Last spring, the European Court of Justice banned the sale of Fully Loaded TV boxes. While manufacturers cannot be held responsible for the use of their product as a medium, some have been “punished” for facilitating or even inciting content piracy. In practice, this prohibition is difficult to implement.

Credits: image under cc-by-2.0 Cédric Puisney

To prevent the sale of a box, it would have to be demonstrated each time that a particular manufacturer carries out an act of communication to the public:

A manufacturer “shall perform an act of communication when he intervenes, in full knowledge of the consequences of his conduct, to give his customers access to a protected work, in particular when, in the absence of such intervention, those customers could not, in principle, enjoy the work broadcast”.

Manufacturers and retailers are just changing the way they communicate to fall through the cracks. And even if the cleaning is done on the side of the manufacturers who are now required to provide “neutral” TV boxes, the installation of pirate extensions remains extremely simple.

Ultimately, to stop piracy via KODI, the various copyright management bodies, authorities and online sales platforms must implement joint measures in an organised way to ensure that they are truly effective.

Box Android: what risks for users?

There is one important point not to forget in all this legal imbroglio: the safety of users. Other applications are sometimes delivered in addition to KODI. For the moment, we know very little about these bloatwares which are often games, or utilities. It would not be surprising if a third party security organization discovered one of these days that some collect data without the users’ knowledge. In addition, Android Boxes are delivered root.

Remember that while the root has many advantages, it also has many disadvantages. For example, malware can run without the users’ knowledge and allow a hacker to take remote control of the box to alter the stored data or collect information. The same applies to KODI extensions that can be used to inject malicious code or unwanted content.

As you will have understood, the fight of rights holders against the piracy of their works is far, far from being won. While we are already moving towards new business models with the rise of VOD and e-cinema, the catalogues of these solutions are still scarce. The android boxes that we remind you of are not without risk for the safety of users seem to have a bright future ahead of them…

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