Sharing a Netflix Account? A Court Says That’s a Federal Crime–Sort of

The headlines were pretty unsettling: A three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals ruled that sharing passwords for online accounts was a federal crime.

In the 67-page ruling, the justices of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, affirmed that people who “knowingly and with intent to defraud” share passwords to secured online accounts without explicit permission to do so are in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It’s possible those same people are also violating the Economic Espionage Act.

This particular case is about a former employee who used a coworker’s login information to access the client database as his former employer’s network in order to obtain confidential client files. He also tried to regain his ability to sign on to the system.

So what, if anything, does this mean for people who share passwords for Netflix or HBOGo or Hulu or Amazon Prime accounts? Should we all start setting up cloaked IP addresses to hide our identities to binge watch Game of Thrones?

Not exactly, writes Carole McNall, an assistant professor of journalism and mass communications at St. Bonaventure University.

In a post for Scholars & Rogues, McNall notes in a series of “lawyerly observations” that this case involves the access of a workplace computer in an executive search firm.  “I suspect that would become an important distinction,” she writes. “Workplace computers, especially ones which contain confidential information, and entertainment services are not likely to be seen as fully equivalent.”

She adds that the firm in question, Korn/Ferry, “made it clear unauthorized users were not welcome to access their computer. Netflix suggests not sharing passwords, but in language which sounds more like a ‘here is your best practice’ advisory.”

Read the rest here.  There’s almost always more to the lawsuit than the headlines suggest, especially with something as titillating as going to jail for watching Orange is the New Black.


Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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