More than one reader has written to ask about offers for TV streaming devices that seem too good to be true.
One reader this week asked about a device he’d seen at a local gun show that offered more than 100 cable channels, 30 movie channels and 120 sports channels with no blackouts for any pro sports game, plus cable news and local networks — all for no monthly fees.
The streaming device (that I shall not name) costs $249.
He wanted to know whether there’s a catch.
Yes. There’s a big catch.
The streams are pirated content.
You may have seen signs at busy intersections for “unlocked Amazon Fire TV sticks” that offer similar packages of every channel under the sun. I’ve seen these for sale at the State Fair of Texas. Craigslist is full of ads for “loaded Fire TV sticks.”
How does this work?
This is a simplified explanation. I’m sure people will be writing in to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about and everything is on the up and up.
There is an app called KODI, which is a legitimate and very nice media streaming program that can play your own movie collection or streams from the internet.
There is nothing illegal about downloading or using KODI to watch video content you own.
There are people who load KODI onto inexpensive Fire TV sticks and then preload third-party add-ons (kind of like bookmarks) that point to servers offering pirated video streams.
These video servers pop up for a while, until they get found out and shut down, then they disappear and then pop up again with new addresses. The add-ons need to be constantly updated as the server addresses change or they just stop working.
If you keep up with the new addresses, you can continue watching.
Some people argue that if you are just viewing a video stream, nothing is stored on your device, so you are not in possession of any of the pirated content and are not breaking the law.
I’m not going to debate the legality of watching a video stream you didn’t pay for.
But even KODI realizes that its software is sometimes used for illegal streaming and advises against it.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. It might even land you in legal trouble. KXAS-TV in Dallas recently reported on the illegal streaming on Fire TV sticks and reminded viewers that the FBI says criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.