Q: Is it true that sharing my Netflix password is now against the law?
A recent decision issued by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is just the latest story to take on a life of its own because of the incessant need to create clickbait across the Internet these days.
Headlines claiming that “sharing your Netflix password is now a federal crime” seem to be lingering, thanks to social media.
What the court ruled on was that sharing your passwords can be grounds for prosecution under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but the case was specifically ruling on unauthorized access by a former employee after the company had revoked access to a protected system.
The former employee left the company to start a competing business and got a current employee to share her password so he could continue to access company records himself.
The majority opinion stated that the case was about stealing intellectual property and not about password sharing, but a dissenting judge disagreed.
This is apparently where the rumor mill started that evolved into the salacious headlines that you may have seen shared on Facebook or Twitter.
No part of this ruling directly addresses password sharing of your streaming services, although one of the judges did try to address the unintended consequences of the ruling because it was so broad.
What it does signal is that it’s now easier for businesses to go after current and former employees for sharing access credentials to protected systems with this ruling.
Most companies like Netflix, Hulu Plus and HBO have viewed password sharing as a viral marketing tool and wouldn’t be likely to go after users, even if this ruling does get interpreted in that way.
What can get you in trouble is if you sell your credentials to others. But simply sharing your credentials with a friend or family member isn’t suddenly a federal crime.
Netflix provided snopes.com with this response to their inquiry into password sharing: “Netflix members can create up to five profiles on each account and the only limit is on how many devices that can be used to access Netflix at the same time, which is by plans. The $11.99 plan allows four devices to stream at the same time; the $9.99 plan allows two. As long as they aren’t selling them, members can use their passwords however they please.”
Other services like Amazon have guidelines for sharing Prime Benefits by creating an Amazon Household posted online.
Cord-cutting millennials that are no longer at home use their parent’s password so they can watch popular shows, such as “Game of Thrones,” and HBO is well aware of that.
HBO’s CEO Richard Plepler told BuzzFeed last year “It’s not that we’re unmindful of it, it just has no impact on the business.” In many ways, it’s a “terrific marketing vehicle for the next generation of viewers,” he said, noting that it could potentially lead to more subscribers in the future.
You can expect things to change as streaming services grow in popularity, but for now, you don’t have to worry about the feds knocking down your door because you shared your Netflix password with Grandma.