Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Does Sharing Your Netflix Password Make You a Criminal?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Does Sharing Your Netflix Password Make You a Criminal?

Article excerpt

Does your cousin use your Netflix account to watch "Orange is the New Black"? Did you give your boyfriend your HBO password so that he could catch up on "Game of Thrones"? If so, you might be considered a criminal under Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But don't worry - the good news is that Netflix doesn't mind.

A decision on July 5 by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. David Nosal has broad implications that some say could impact unwitting internet users.

"People frequently share their passwords, notwithstanding the fact that websites and employers have policies prohibiting it," wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt in his dissenting opinion on US v. David Nosal. "In my view, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA") does not make the millions of people who engage in this ubiquitous, useful, and generally harmless conduct into unwitting federal criminals."

Netflix doesn't think so either. Both Netflix and competitor HBO GO have acknowledged that many of their users share passwords in order to avoid paying for multiple accounts within a family or group of friends.

Yet despite the fact that a study by Parks Associates last year found that subscription video on demand (VOD) services like Netflix stand to lose $500 million per year due to password sharing, VOD executives are enthusiastic about service sharing.

"We love people sharing Netflix whether they're two people on a couch or 10 people on a couch," Reed Hastings, Netflix chief executive officer, announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this year. "That's a positive thing, not a negative thing."

In fact, Mr. Hastings doesn't see password sharing as a way to lose customers, but as a way to gradually gain them. The reasoning, he says, is that young people share their parents' passwords until they leave home or can afford their own subscription. By allowing password sharing, services like Netflix literally grow their subscriber base.

HBO has been less explicit about its own position on password sharing in recent years but in 2014, CEO Richard Plepler shared views similar to Hastings in a statement, saying password sharing is a "terrific marketing vehicle for the next generation of viewers. …

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