If you currently share your Netflix password with a family member or a friend, or if you're on the other end of the leeching process, then watch out - you may be helping to commit a federal crime, at least if you believe recent media reports.
Many users share their Netflix or HBO Now passwords, in an attempt to save money, and up until now, streaming companies have turned a blind eye to the practice.
But a new opinion issued by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has change all of this, according to reports. The court has ruled on a case that appears to involve password sharing, and has ruled that the act is prosecutable under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The case in which the opinion was handed down for relates to an ex-employee accessing confidential data using a colleague's password, but if interpreted in the wrong way, the ruling could apply to the sharing of Netflix passwords.
Netflix password sharing was not specifically referred to in the dissenting opinion on the case, but Judge Reinhardt, the dissenting judge, expressed worries that password sharers may become "unwitting federal criminals" under this ruling, for he believes the case is mainly about "password sharing". But ruling addresses and dismisses this concern, citing the narrow interpretation of the case ruling that won't extend to common password sharing.
"But the circumstance here - former employees whose computer access was categorically revoked and who surreptitiously accessed data owned by their former employer - bears little resemblance to asking a spouse to log in to an email account to print a boarding pass," the court's opinion read.
In other words, the ruling may be far too narrow to apply to Netflix or HBO password sharing, and so millions of users and their leecher friends/family have nothing to worry about.
Even in the event that password sharing was made a criminal offense, services like Netflix will be unwillingly to face the huge public backlash from referring their customers to federal prosecutors. In fact, Netflix has specifically referred to password sharing as a positive for the company, as a way to advertise their services to potential customers (who aren't willing to pay, just yet). HBO has also previously referred to password sharing as a "terrific marketing vehicle for the next generation of viewers".
, and Snopes