Is Sharing Netflix Passwords a Federal Offense? New Ruling Could Be a Slippery Slope

     July 11, 2016

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We all do it. You do it. Your mother does it. Your sisters and brothers do it. Your best friend’s cousin’s college roommate does it. And now “it” might become a federal crime.

I’m talking about sharing Netflix passwords.

On July 5th, a ruling issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that using passwords for someone’s computer system without the authorization of the system’s owner is technically a crime that violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The specific case pertained to a former employee at an executive-search firm using the log-in credentials of a current employee without authorization by the company to access computer data owned by the former employer.

The problem is the line between criminal intent and the daily grind of logging into Netflix, HBO GO, and similar video streaming platforms may be blurred.

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Image via Apple


One of the three presiding judges, Judge Reinhardt, remarked in his dissent that “the CFAA does not make the millions of people who engage in this ubiquitous, useful, and generally harmless conduct into unwitting federal criminals.” He further stated:

The majority does not provide, nor do I see, a workable line which separates the consensual password sharing in this case from the consensual password sharing of millions of legitimate account holders, which may also be contrary to the policies of system owners. There simply is no limiting principle in the majority’s world of lawful and unlawful password sharing.

This doesn’t mean that everyone currently sharing log-ins for streaming services will be hunted down and arrested. Even if Reinhardt’s reading of the ruling becomes enforced, that would mean we need permission from said services to share someone’s passwords, and the CEOs for Netflix and HBO have been pretty cool about this whole business for some time.

Netflix’s Reed Hastings said (via TechCrunch), “We love people sharing Netflix whether they’re two people on a couch or 10 people on a couch. That’s a positive thing, not a negative thing.” HBO’s Richard Plepler similarly remarked (via BuzzFeed), “It’s not that we’re unmindful of it, it just has no impact on the business,” later adding, “We’re in the business of creating addicts.”

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Image via Xbox


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