The shutdown of TVAddons, which operated the world’s most popular Kodi repository for third-party add-ons with over 40 million unique active users, initiated a huge shift in the Kodi community. Many add-ons and repositories closed shop. Others rose to take their place. In just two months time since TVAddons first went offline, Kodi users have had to overhaul how they stream content.
Now TVAddons is back, this time with an eye toward legal, licensed content. But due to the ongoing court battle between the site’s founder and a who’s who of telecom giants in Canada, TVAddons had to start from scratch. Stuck in the appeals process, all of TVAddon’s original web domains and social media accounts were seized by a law firm. That means it must claw its way back up the search rankings and try to migrate followers over to new Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“Due to the fact that we’ve temporarily lost our original domain name, we’re now stuck rebuilding our search engine rankings from scratch,” a representative of TVAddons, who asked not to be named, tells Comparitech. “We also have no way of contacting most of our users to let them know what’s going on, since we never required registration for addon installation.”
Although Adam Lackman’s chances look promising in court, he’s already racked up more than $100,000 in legal expenses, and that figure is only expected to grow. The team is asking for donations to support its case, which could set a far-reaching precedent for online streaming in Canada and beyond.
“Above and beyond our legal requirements”
At the heart of the original debate in court is whether or not it is illegal to provide access to services that link to pirated, copyrighted material. TVAddons says it never hosted or linked directly to any such material, but the Fusion repository did host add-ons that contained such links. Despite the two degrees of separation between TVAddons and pirated material–and the fact that less than one percent of add-ons in the repository were considered “infringing”–a judge issued an invasive Anton Piller order that resulted in the seizure of Lackman’s physical and digital property, including domain names and social media accounts. Another judge ruled the Anton Piller order unlawful, but that ruling was appealed. Until that appeal goes to court, the legality of repositories like Fusion remains in limbo, and the TVAddons domains and accounts are still being held by a third party on behalf of the court.
“Illegitimate content gets uploaded to YouTube all the time, but they don’t get sued. They get notified of the violation by the rightsholder responsible, and remove it,” TVAddons says. “We have always fully complied with takedown notices, and didn’t receive any in the case of the Canadian plaintiffs.”
The appeal is expected to begin in the next eight to 14 months. TVAddons says until the appeal is heard, it will go “above and beyond our legal requirements” to ensure that content licenses can be easily verified for all of the add-ons in its repository.
“Basically if we can’t verify the license at first glance, we won’t allow it for the time being. This definitely poses limitations to legitimate development and creativity, which sucks,” the representative says. “Many legitimate addons may be wrongfully banned as a result, there isn’t really a central database of copyrights that we can consult, so it’s kind of difficult.”
Many in the Kodi community are skeptical about whether a repository that only contains legal addons will even be attractive to the vast majority of users. These concerns are compounded by rival repositories and installers like Ares Wizard, which still contain “infringing” add-ons and are attempting to capitalize on Fusion’s and Indigo’s downfall. In spite of this, TVAddons seems confident that it will reclaim its throne.
“People will always look to us as the most reliable source for newbie friendly Kodi information and unofficial addons,” the TVAddons representative explains. “We don’t need to compete with anyone. We’ll innovate.”
TVAddons remained tight-lipped about what those innovations might be, only saying, “We already have a plethora of legitimate addons in our community repository, and have some very innovative and revolutionary stuff coming.”
Comparitech asked if he thinks Ares will also face legal troubles.
“Different things, but based on looking at their site’s content and the fact that they use Google Adsense, I’m assuming they’ll likely run into trouble in the future,” he says. “TV ADDONS always conformed with the law and took major precautions to ensure privacy and security, I can’t say that for other sites.”
The spokesperson says TVAddons has never about “infringing’ addons” but about Kodi addons in general. When pressed about whether members of the TVAddons team worked on Exodus, one of the most popular infringing add-ons, he refused to comment “due to the current legal proceedings.”
“Most of those people are misinformed”
Another worry that arose alongside TVAddons’ resurrection is whether or not the site and its services are safe. Users on reddit and social media expressed concern over whether the new TVAddons could be some sort of honeypot. Some speculate that users could fall victim to data theft by the court-appointed Canadian law firm that holds the original domain.
TVAddons wholly denies these rumors, stating, “Most of those people are misinformed. TV ADDONS domains are not owned by anyone except for TV ADDONS. They are being held by a third party on behalf of the court until the plaintiffs appeal can be heard. Appeals are very hard to win, but even if we lose, it doesn’t mean that those companies will ever get access to our domains. Losing a lawsuit doesn’t mean that a web site has to be shut down permanently, plenty of web sites get sued everyday, they get fined and that’s that.”
TVAddons suspects the allegation that it’s working with its opponents in court to create some sort of honeypot is being perpetuated by competitors.
“The rumours being spread are mostly coming from entities that have always had a vested interest in TV ADDONS’ failure, so that they could profit from our demise by making money off unsuspecting users looking for a quick TV fix.”
“Just because you see a guy on a boat doesn’t mean he owns it”
TVAddons is asking members of its community to donate money to help pay for Lackman’s legal fees. The request for funds came around the same time that a photo of Lackman on a boat made the rounds on several blogs. Given optics are everything, some questioned whether Lackman really needs the money and whether the legal fight is a worthwhile endeavor.
“Just because you see a guy on a boat, doesn’t mean he owns it. Would people have preferred that he make his internet debut looking like a homeless person? No one is begging for anyone’s money, in fact even if our donation goal of $250k is met, it still won’t cover the entirety of our legal expenses,” TVAddons said. “No one is begging anyone for money. If people want to see us prevail, they can donate. If people appreciate the years of service we’ve provided for free, they can donate. If people want to see big companies held accountable for violating the law and our founder’s rights, they can donate.”
In the past, TVAddons did make money from affiliate links located on two blog posts that were frequently and prominently linked to from other pages: a list of recommended VPNs and a list of devices that run Kodi. Those posts have been republished on the new site, but TVAddons explains it “was never run as a business, financial gain was never put ahead of user experience, and users were never pressured into paying for anything.”
The site at the previous domain also featured donation buttons in the sidebar.
According to court documents, TVAddons was Lackman’s primary source of income, and cutting him off from it was a underhanded way of preventing him from mounting a sufficient defense.
Did Lackman name names?
Reports state interrogators presented Lackman with a list of 30 names of people who might be operating services or sites similar to TVAddons. He was asked to provide information on those people. Many in the Kodi community have expressed concern that Lackman might have “named names” as a result. But our contact at TVAddons says this is simply not true.
“I was just laughing yesterday about how people who can’t read spread misinformation. Nowhere does it say that Mr. Lackman gave up any names,” he says. “He was the biggest privacy advocate our community had. He would have never allowed himself to know the identities of anyone else in the community, including those of our own team members. Without knowing anyone’s identities, how could he give anyone up?”
A wider impact
The fate of Lackman and TVAddons could set a precedent for unofficial streaming services both on and off Kodi for years to come. But TVAddons was skeptical that the court case has had much of an effect on streaming in general.
“I don’t think it has impacted the debate on online streaming, however I do think it has opened the public’s eye to the fact that big corporations disregard the law when it is in their interest,” the representative said. “They managed to manipulate the legal system in order to achieve their goal of destroying our web site, even though the court already ordered that all of our domains should be returned to us and that they violated our founder’s rights.”
He proudly proclaimed, “TVADDONS built the Kodi addon community from nothing, when we started there was not a single search result on Google for anything XBMC addon related.”