We’re All Criminals Now: Sharing Netflix and HBO Go Passwords Is a Federal Crime
Chances are, you or someone you know either shares their Netflix and HBO Go passwords or benefits from using someone else’s account. It’s such a common occurrence that, when asked about it, even the CEO of HBO was like, “No big deal,” then he tipped his shades and sent out a memo with a shrug emoticon — okay, I made that last part up, but if even that guy doesn’t care, then what’s the problem? Oh, just a little something called Federal Law.
Per Variety, a recent court ruling determined that using someone else’s password for an online service like, say, Netflix or HBO Go, is now technically a violation of federal law. More specifically, the judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decreed that using someone else’s password “without authorization from the system’s owner” violates the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act — which means that letting your slacker BFF use your Netflix account because she’s too lazy to get her own (hypothetical, I swear), or borrowing your auntie’s HBO Go login info because you just “cannot even” is now technically a federal crime.
But what someone gives you their password? That means you have permission, right? That’s where the “without authorization of the system’s owner” comes in, which basically makes you — as Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in his dissent — an “unwitting federal criminal.” Here’s what else Judge Reinhardt had to say on the matter, via Fortune:
The majority is wrong to conclude that a person necessarily accesses a computer account ‘without authorization’ if he does so without the permission of the system owner.
That means it doesn’t matter if your neighbor or cousin or whomever gave you permission to use their Netflix account; if you don’t have authorization directly from Netflix, then you are committing a crime. Which means we are ALL committing crimes.
But don’t worry. HBO CEO Richard Plepler and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings have made it clear that they aren’t concerned about you sharing passwords with other people — as Hastings put it earlier this year, Netflix is more likely to gain a new subscriber from password sharing than they are to lose revenue.
Bottom line: It’s highly unlikely that Netflix or HBO are going to start coming after users for sharing passwords anytime soon (or ever).