When the popular TVAddons website suddenly closed down on June 13, it was a shot heard around the world for many in the Kodi community. While TVAddons continues to allow only a trickle of information on the issue, there are many hints that the site and its popular repository may be back sometime shortly, although playing a very different tune when it does.
Those hints became stronger on June 17th with the publication of a letter from TVAddon’s Eleazar Coding, sent out to developers who utilized Offshoregit to host files and repositories. The website KodiTips broke the news with the final send-off of the letter, although the entirety of the letter, which is said to be 10-pages long, has not been revealed. It’s also worth noting that Elezear Coding has not publicly confirmed the authenticity of the letter himself.
In the letter to Kodi third-party addon developers, Coding supposedly hinted at a more legally-relevant future for the TVAddons site, its pool of developers, and the git repository hosting site itself.
Eleazar Coding, whose letter represented both the future of TVAddons and Offshoregit, explained in the letter that “I’m personally looking very forward to seeing new legitimate add-on development.” He closed his letter by explaining that “TV App is not going anywhere,” as well as hinting at a more legally-conscious direction, stating that “moving forward things are going to be more efficient, stronger, and more peaceful.”
It is the word “peaceful” that may draw the attention of some in the Kodi community. As far as third-party addon development goes, much of the upheaval in recent weeks, and in the past, has been the constant skirting and dancing around issues of legality. The Kodi application itself is and has always been legal to use. Meanwhile, a large number of App available for the platform are legal as well, including many third-party App.
However, in recent years and particularly in the past year, third-party App used to access pirated material have gained steam. Much of this growth has culminated in, and in many ways been fueled by, the selling of “Kodi boxes” that come fully-loaded with piracy-related third-party App. In the UK, in particular, many piracy box sellers have made tens of thousands of dollars in a short amount of time, drawing the attention of governments and police agencies in the process.
Blood in the Water
As to the current crisis facing the community, Eleazer and many others in the Kodi community place the blame strictly at the feet of online streaming and piracy news website TorrentFreak. Coding explained in his letter that “pretty much everything you’ll read online (including the TorrentFreak article) [is] highly sensationalized and spread all kinds of incorrect information.”
In its write-up on the letter, KodiTips also takes umbrage with TorrentFreak, stating that Coding “correctly” points the finger at TorrentFreak for blowing the situation out of proportion.
On June 13th, TorrentFreak released an article immediately following the TVAddons shut down, ostensibly attempting to link the sudden disappearance of the TVAddons website to a lawsuit filed by Dish Network, in which TVAddons is named as a defendant. TorrentFreak finishes the article by stating that “it’s best not to jump to conclusions without an official explanation from the team,” while utilizing a headline and prose that do little to dissuade readers from making the mental connection that the two events might be related.
TorrentFreak broke the news of the Dish Network lawsuit in a post dated June 5th. In their article, TorrentFreak writer Ernesto explained that the lawsuit, which chiefly named the now disabled ZemTV, was the “first of its kind in the United States.” The nature of the lawsuit against both ZemTV and TVAddons charged that both the addon developer behind ZemTV and the website TVAddons allowed others to access video streams owned by Dish.
As quoted by TorrentFreak, the lawyers representing Dish Network in the case explained that “ZemTV service is retransmitting these channels over the Internet to end-users that download the ZemTV add-on for the Kodi media player, which is available for download at the websites www.tvaddons.ag and www.tvaddons.org.”
It is not immediately clear why Dish Network chose to target TVAddons and ZemTV, in particular. TVAddons is not the only “super repository” hosting a large number Kodi App, and ZemTV is not the only addon which scrapes content owned by Dish Network. However, it is likely that both the website and the ZemTV developer were targeted specifically due to their popularity.
As a result of its popularity and the urgency hinted at in its reporting, some see TorrentFreak as the chief culprit behind the string of addon shutdowns that followed the Dish Network lawsuit. In a piece June 11 editorial, TorrentFreak defended itself against a mild onslaught of finger pointing in its direction, stating:
“Quite understandably, users of the platforms were disappointed, and that predictably resulted in people attempting to apportion blame. The first comment to catch the eye was posted directly beneath our article. Interestingly, it placed the blame squarely on our shoulders. “Thanks, Torrentfreak, for ruining Kodi,” it read. While shooting the messenger is an option, it’s historically problematic.”
Just two days after breaking the news on the lawsuit, TorrentFreak ran the article, “Popular Kodi Add-Ons Quit Following Prominent Piracy Lawsuit,” which highlighted the fact that several other addon developers had chosen to close up shop in response to the lawsuit.
Chief among the developers was Cosmix, an “old school,” original addon developer behind the popular Phoenix addon. On the now-shutdown TVAddons forum, Cosmix explained:
“In light of current events we have decided to close down Phoenix. This is not something that was easy for us to do; we have all formed a bond that cannot be broken as a team and have a HUGE support base that we are thankful of.”
TorrentFreak also noted that developers One242415 (of Navi-X) and developer Echo Coder (of Echo Wizard) both followed suit.
On Twitter, amidst a regular flurry of anti-Donald Trump tweets, Echo Coder explained:
“At the moment I have pulled ALL App bar XXXODUS but should I release anything in the future they will be at TVA.”
The Echo Wizard developer has since received a significant number of negative reactions from his followers due to his decision, with one user explaining that he had “lost the respect” he had for Echo Coder in his move to shut down his popular addon:
Confusion and Clarity for TVAddons
With the shutdown of TVAddons came a significant amount of consternation in the Kodi community. In particular, many grieved over the sudden loss of Exodus, the popular movie streaming addon acquired by TVAddons after the addon’s original developer handed it over following a hacking controversy.
The original Exodus developer, Lambda, had been caught using the addon as a DDoS botnet. After the controversy, he gave the addon to TVAddons and subsequently quit development for good.
On the Kodi forum /r/Addons4Kodi, users continued to post about having issues gaining access to Exodus and other TVAddons-hosted files. The flurry of posts became so regular that the moderators began deleting many of them due to repetitive content.
Amidst all of the confusion, some App and repositories that happened to go offline during the previous weeks were wrongly attributed to the current crisis. That included the popular Noobsandnerds (NaN) repository, as well as their popular App, such as Bob Unrestricted and their new Elysium addon. However, a NaN affiliate posted to /r/Addons4Kodi in on June 17, explaining that their site, repository and App went down due to a server error.
“Our server host Hot Hosting has been having some issues but have [enlisted] the help of another company who are helping them out so NaN is expected to be moved across to a new server which should see the site and forum load faster,” explained /u/ARB84.
In the wake of a potential revamp of TVAddons, Noobsandnerds stands a chance of becoming a more prominent development team and site within the community. The site takes a different approach to Kodi addon development and includes many user-friendly guides with a strong emphasis on helping users learn how to become developers and coders themselves.
The chasm left by TVAddons also made way for newer, or lesser known, repositories to come further into the view of the wider community. A relatively new repository, Simply Caz, suddenly rose to prominence in the days following the TVAddons shutdown. Although some are questioning whether the Simply Caz repository can be trusted, many have turned to the repository for the sole fact that it contains many popular App once located in the TVAddons repository.
A New, Old Direction?
Given the potential new direction for TVAddons upon its rumored restart, there is a chance that the popular third-party App that drew it so much negative attention may not make a return at all. That could include the popular Exodus addon as well.
Still, in response to the KodiTips article covering the recent letter from Coding, one user linked to a 2016 article from TorrentFreak which provides evidence that the current TVAddons predicament may not be a somewhat manufactured crisis.
In that article, dated December 27, 2016, TorrentFreak interviewed Eleazar from TVAddons (presumably the same Eleazar behind the Offshoregit letter). In the interview, the developer explains that “We (TVAddons) never intended our community to be considered to be a source for sketchy content. There are many popular App that have been developed as a more convenient way to access legitimately licensed content.”
He goes on to highlight App such as BBC iPlayer, FilmOn and USTVNow as examples of App that making watching live TV and films easy and legal.
In what was a more revealing moment for the current Kodi community plight, Eleazar tells TorrentFreak the following:
“In the New Year, we hope to boost the more legitimate type of App, from both the development perspective and end user point of view. We’re also in the process of streamlining the entire Kodi addon experience, making it easier for everyone, with our new website design coming very, very soon.”
While Eleazar goes on to strongly criticize piracy box sellers, it’s hard to pass by the above statement without reflecting on the community’s doom-and-gloom reaction to the TVAddons’ seemingly sudden shutdown, and, in particular, TorrentFreak’s reporting following that shutdown.
Given TorrentFreak had prior knowledge of the TVAddons plan to rework its site, how it offers App and what App it wanted to remain in its coffers, it raises questions regarding ethical reporting.
TorrentFreak cannot be faulted completely in suggesting that TVAddons went down due to the Dish Network lawsuit. The timing is likely too close to be circumstantial, even with Coding’s earlier stated plans to make this move happen in 2017. However, it was also in TorrentFreak’s purview to reference their months-old article within their newer reporting. Failing to do so was either a poor oversight on TorrentFreak’s part or intentional so as to allow the insinuation of a crisis to draw in more readers.
Given the information that has arisen in the past several days, there are some key takeaways for the Kodi community. Perhaps most importantly is the fact that the community must come to terms with the exponential growth it’s seen in the past year. Part of the reason the crisis even became that – a crisis – is because of how many new users now exist who lack the information channels relevant to stemming knee-jerk reactions.
As with most luxuries that walk the legal gray area, popularity breeds attention, and attention results in governmental response. Kodi’s popular third party App have been able to scrape by without much governmental attention simply because the market remained niche and small for so long.
However, as the number of users started to explode, in no small part due to the piracy box sellers that have now been shut out of sites like Amazon and Ebay, the amount of attention on the community has grown. It was only a matter of time before that attention started leading to negative consequences.
It is clear from Eleazar’s December 2016 interview with TorrentFreak and what is assumed to be his June 2017 letter to developers that the TVAddons plans to lead the charge toward more legitimacy. It is also likely that the XBMC Foundation, which has long maintained an at-arm’s-length relationship with most third-party developers, will welcome this change.
Indeed, developers within the official XBMC forums were praising the shutdown of TVAddons, perhaps without realizing that the shutdown was part of a long-planned re-imagining for the site that would help give the XBMC Foundation exactly what it has been hoping for from third-party developers: a decreased focus on illegal streaming options.
At present, there is no word on exactly when TVAddons plans to relaunch its rebranded website. When it does, however, it is clear that the site will not have the same focus or offer the same resources. Based on interviews and hints, it is also unlikely that many of the popular App that played host to pirated streams will make a return either. Even now, those who still have access to the TVAddons repository (as I do), will note that it still opens and still scrapes a server for content, but now only lists a small handful of mostly innocuous App.
Should TVAddons return with a strictly legal-minded focus, the site will either suffer greatly due to a loss of interest from those who wish to continue accessing illegal streaming options, or it will grow in popularity as it helps lead the charge toward more legitimacy for Kodi. Either way, when TVAddons does return, it will leave most in the Kodi community with more than a little to talk about.