Many streaming video consumers may have never considered the legal status of sharing something that may have started to become second nature. Is it illegal to share a Netflix password?
The Los Angeles Times is reporting on comments made with regard to a recent appellate court ruling by dissenting Judge Stephen Reinhardt, which are being interpreted by some to mean that, technically, it could be illegal to share a Netflix password. Legally, it is seen in the same light as torrent sharing or iPhone jailbreaking.
“I would hold that consensual password sharing is not the kind of ‘hacking’ covered by the CFAA.”
The Inquisitr has previously reported on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the conviction of Matthew Keys, and the conviction and suicide of Aaron Swartz, under it.
“There’s no reason to believe the FBI is going to come knocking at your door to make sure you logged out of your ex’s HBO Go account,” the Los Angeles Times writes with regard to the chances of getting in trouble for sharing your password.
The presumption by the Times is that sheer numbers, and perhaps a sense of the seeming absurdity of it, make the chance of most individuals facing legal penalties for Netflix password sharing extremely low.
However, it would seem that vast amounts of Americans commit the same crime that Aaron Swartz was convicted of, stealing over 4 million documents, on a daily basis: stealing copyrighted media. Like most who download movies and music with torrent sites, Aaron Swartz never had any intention of selling the academic papers he was caught red-handed stealing. He had no profit motive.
Aaron Swartz circumvented a pay service that he deemed too expensive, perhaps absurdly so. What his exact plans were, the world will never know, Aaron Swartz took his own life after being convicted under the CFAA in January, 2013, as reported by TechCrunch.
The case of David Nosal, commented on by Judge Reinhardt, has many similarities to the case of Matthew Keys, who was sentenced to two years in prison, as reported by Wired, after being convicted of providing his password to members of Anonymous who used it to deface the Los Angeles Times website. In total, the hackers were able to vandalize a Times web page for about 40 minutes.
Are they illegal to share? Netflix password sharing appears to be illegal under the CFAA. What Matthew Keys and David Nosal were convicted of is essentially the same thing. They shared passwords, something that they were contractually obligated not to do. They had promised their employers that they would not share their passwords and then broke their promise.
While it is highly unlikely that the average person sharing a Netflix or HBO password with a friend or loved one will result in charges under the CFAA, the cases of Keys and Nosal might serve as reminders that it is probably best not to push the limits too far.
Netflix has allowed multiple people to stream movies at once using the same account for some time. Different plans permit different numbers of simultaneous streams. In January, the media company’s chief product manager, Neil Hunt, expressed the company’s expectation with regard to Netflix password sharing, as reported by Express.
So, as long as Netflix is content to allow a limited amount of password sharing, it would seem likely that customers who operate within these limits are safe to share their Netflix password. Illegal though it may be.
[Photo by Paul Sakuma/AP Images]