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SALT LAKE CITY — Americans had a collective gulp and momentary bad conscience when it was widely reported several weeks ago that the U.S. Ninth Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that internet-streaming-entertainment password sharing was illegal.
Now that the dust has settled, legal experts now say you will not go to jail for sharing your Netflix password or be awakened at 3:54 a.m. by some black-hooded SWAT team with loaded and ready-to-shoot AR-15 rifles because you shared your password with Sam or Aunt Edna. Just don’t sell your password.
The whole confusion started when the court ruled on a specific incident in 2004 after an employee of an executive search firm left the firm and had two other employees download company information for him. Another employee let others use her login information to access company information. Both incidents related to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act — a law originally passed in 1986 which has been amended several times since then.
How it applies to entertainment streaming passwords
So what does this all really mean? Well, for starters, the recent ruling is about password sharing on a business and corporate level, but not for entertainment services such as Netflix, Hulu, or HBO — which makes it OK to share your Netflix password with friends and family.
In a statement released to the urban legend clearinghouse website Snopes.com, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said, “Overall, Netflix members can create up to five profiles on each account and the only limit is on how many devices that can be used to access Netflix at the same time, which is by plans. The $11.99 plan allows four devices to stream at the same time; the $9.99 plan allows two. As long as they aren’t selling them, members can use their passwords however they please.”
In fact, the streaming services consider password sharing to be a part of their marketing strategy. Often after benefiting from a shared password, people end up purchasing their own subscription.
In other words, the basic rule is that you should feel free to share your password with trusted people you know. Companies like Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and Amazon that offer streaming entertainment services are extremely lenient about password-sharing.
Just don’t abuse the system.
Paul Kruze is a San Diego-based multiple award-winning multimedia journalist who has covered politics, technology, multicultural and other stories. He is also a professional musician. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org