Sharing Your Netflix Password Might Be A Federal Crime

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Everyone knows that there are some things that a real friendship requires you to share: secrets, junk food, and Netflix passwords.

Well, friendship might have to give one of those up. A court ruling handed down on Tuesday could make sharing passwords to subscription-based services like Netflix, HBO GO, and Amazon Prime a federal crime, The Guardian reports.

The decision, from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, rules that using a password that isn’t yours without permission from the company is a federal crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The case, United States v. Nosal, technically revolved around a man who, in 2004, allegedly used a former coworker’s password to access a work computer after he had left the company. He was charged with hacking.
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A dissenting judge in the case, Stephen Reinhardt, pointed out that the decision could have ramifications far beyond the case at hand— i.e., your habit of using your best friend’s aunt’s HBO GO password. “People frequently share their passwords, notwithstanding the fact that websites and employers have policies prohibiting it. In my view, the CFAA does not make the millions of people who engage in this ubiquitous, useful, and generally harmless conduct into unwitting federal criminals,” he wrote.

Don’t worry yet. It’s pretty unlikely that HBO GO or Netflix is going to come after you and demand that you and your roommate sign up for separate accounts, as the CEOs of both companies have spoken positively of password-sharing. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings called password-sharing “positive” in January, according to tech site CNET.

And the CEO of HBO, Richard Plepler, has even said that he views password-sharing as a “marketing vehicle” for more subscribers. He’s completely aware of the nature of, say, Game Of Thrones’ status as a gateway drug for TV binging. “We’re in the business of creating addicts,” he told Buzzfeed in 2014. Oh, HBO. You know our weaknesses so well.

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