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Are Streaming Services Finally Going to Crack Down on Password Sharing?

Male hand holding TV remote control.
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 22, 2019

Look, we all suspect that still using an ex's Netflix login, years after they moved out, is morally wrong. It also doesn't say much about our financial prospects to still be on mom and dad's Amazon Prime account. And you probably have a fleeting notion that five friends pitching in for one HBO Go account is against some law somewhere.

But you'd probably be forgiven for partaking anyway -- streaming services haven't exactly cracked down on password sharing and the Supreme Court ducked the issue two years ago. But be warned: Disney, who will soon roll out a streaming package that includes Hulu and ESPN+, just announced "an important collaborative effort to address the significant issue of piracy mitigation." And yes, that applies to you, pirate.

Doing the Crime

As an initial matter, sharing passwords is a federal crime. Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, giving your password to someone else, or using someone else's password constitutes "unauthorized access" to the account, meaning you could face criminal penalties for password sharing on almost any streaming service. It also likely violates the terms of service you (or your partner in crime) agreed to when signing up.

As we noted, however, streaming services did not appear to be actively pursuing password pirates in the past. But Ars Technica reported last week that Disney and Charter Communications (the second-biggest cable company in the country) will be teaming up to prevent password sharing. "The two companies will work together to implement business rules and techniques to address such issues as unauthorized access and password sharing," although both declined to offer details on how their rules will be enforced.

Doing the Time

More likely than not, Disney, Charter, and other services that want to limit illicit password sharing will simply block access to their products. While streaming services could track users through IP addresses and limit access that way, legitimate sharing (among spouses and children) and less legitimate VPN access could complicate matters.

Less likely is that those services ask the government to prosecute people who illegally share passwords. If so, you could be looking at 10 years in prison, and that's just for a first-time, only-time offense.

So, binge on your brother's friend's cousin's parents' account while you can. Because the Mouse is coming.

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