Millions of people are using streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and HBO Go, and many of them are not actually paying for those accounts. It's led to a common question: Can I get in trouble for sharing passwords?
2 On Your Side set out to get a VERIFIED answer.
First, we need to figure out if password sharing is illegal. Unfortunately, the courts haven't been clear, according to our legal analysts.
Many people point to a federal appeals court decision from 2016 in United States v. Nosal. The defendant gained access to his old company's computer system by using login information and passwords that were given to him by current employees.
The 3-judge panel in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled he violated the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. One of the judges wrote that the court's rationale should apply to all password sharing, including for streaming services. However, that was in the dissent.
The majority opinion, which is legally binding, found that, "this appeal is not about password sharing."
Therefore, we really don't know if using someone else's Netflix or HBO account could actually land you in jail.
Either way, legal analyst Scott Robinson says there is little chance a prosecutor would pursue such a case, even if he or she could.
"It's just too many dollars spent prosecuting too little misconduct," Robinson said.
The other way you could get in trouble would be if the companies wanted to sue you. You probably shouldn't worry about that, either, says Robinson.
"In practice, Netflix is not interested in going after the common man," he explained.
In fact, Netflix's CEO previously said, "We love people sharing Netflix... That's a positive thing, not a negative thing."
HBO's chief executive agrees.
"What we're in the business of doing is building addicts, building video addicts," HBO CEO Richard Plepler told BuzzFeed in an interview. He went on to point out that his company reserves the right to go after password sharing at a later date if needed.
The bottom line is that password sharing might be wrong, and it may be illegal. The law isn't exactly clear. But 2 On Your Side can VERIFY that, for now, neither prosecutors nor the companies are interested in stopping people from sharing passwords. Just remember that could change in the future.
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