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18th Jul 2016

It could soon be illegal to share your Netflix password with your mates

This would be a nightmare.

Stephanie Costello

Sharing a Netflix password is the ultimate friendship goal.

As it stands, Netflix are happy for multiple people to access the same Netflix account at any one time. While you have to upgrade to get more than two people watching at once, there doesn’t seem to be a limit to the amount of people you hand out your password to besides your own generosity.

thank you netflix

But a recent case in the United States could threaten the right to share passwords, and it might have a knock-on effect in Europe too.

Three judges in the US Court of Appeals agreed that sharing passwords to access streaming accounts such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO could now be considered a crime under the Computer And Fraud Abuse Act.

The landmark case – known as the United States v Nosal – doesn’t specifically mention password sharing for streaming sites, but some are predicting that it has the potential to do so.

The decision arose from charges that were brought against David Nosal, a former employee of a recruitment firm Korn/Ferry. When Nosal left the firm in 2004 to start his own rival company, it came to light that he used a former worker’s password to gain access to a work computer.

Under the eyes of US law, this is considered hacking as he acted “without authorisation” in order to find trade secrets that could further his own career.

Although this case specifically refers to a former employee accessing trade secrets, and is, as Judge Margaret McKeown said, “not about password sharing”, legislators worry about the far-reaching consequences of this new ruling.

Justice Stephen Reinhardt, another judge on the case, said that the decision “threatens to criminalise all sorts of innocuous conduct engaged in daily by ordinary citizens”.

In the past, Netflix and Hulu have stated that they don’t see password sharing as a massive issue, so there is no immediate need to let go of your shared accounts just yet.  And it is unclear as of yet how, or indeed if this ruling will affect password sharing in the future.

Something to consider, though, is a Variety report which revealed that streaming sites have lost around $500m worldwide as a result of password sharing.