Is sharing passwords for subscription-based web streaming applications like Netflix or HBO illegal? And if, so what are the punishments?
WHAT WE FOUND
For answers, KUSA-TV in Denver turned to legal expert Scott Robinson.
“In theory using someone else's password for access to a streaming video system may, in fact, violate The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” Robinson said. “But in practice, Netflix isn't interested in going after the common man.”
To give credence to Robinson’s point we turned to a Buzzfeed article titled, "HBO’s CEO Doesn’t Care That You Are Sharing Your HBO GO Password." The article was written in early 2014 and cites HBO CEO, Richard Plepler. Plepler was interviewed at a Buzzfeed event where he said, “It's not that we're unmindful of [password sharing], it just has no impact on the business… We're in the business of creating addicts.”
The article goes on to explain how Plepler believes, if anything, having people share passwords will only foster a new generation of viewers.
And it’s not just that Plepler thinks password-sharing doesn’t have an effect on business, according to Robinson going after password purveyors could actually be bad for business at the private and public level.
“It's not something any DA anywhere in Colorado [would] contemplate doing,” Robinson said. “It's just too many dollars spent prosecuting too little misconduct.”
A recently published Reuter’s article estimates that currently more than one-fifth of young adults “who stream shows like "Game of Thrones" or "Stranger Things" borrow passwords from people who do not live with them.”
Robinson says to look at sharing a password like lending a book to a friend.
If you happen to make copies of programming and/or give your password to people for a price, companies will be more likely to seek legal action, Robinson says.
You pretty much won't be in any legal trouble with any big companies if you give out your password - just don't copy their content or charge your friends for the service.