Is Sharing Your Netflix Password a Federal Crime?
When we were kids most of us were taught that “sharing is caring.” So what do you do when your best friend is broke and having withdrawals from not being able to binge-watch Orange Is The New Black? You share your Netflix password of course! Now, however, you may have to go against your instincts and take the moral high-ground when it comes to sharing your coveted passwords. According to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a user cannot circumvent a computer system’s security measures by “going through the back door and accessing the computer through a third party,” per the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).
In other words millennials, sharing passwords to subscription services like Netflix or Hulu could be a prosecutable crime. But don’t panic just yet looking for your passport. This all began with United States v. David Nosal, which doesn’t specify using streaming services. ABC reports the Ninth Circuit ruled on Defendant David Nosal, who used his colleague’s credentials to access propriety information owned by his former employer, Korn/Ferry, after leaving to start a competing recruitment firm. The court ruled against Nosal, saying he accessed “a protected computer without permission… knowingly and with intent to defraud.” Judge Stephen Reinhardt had a different opinion, drawing a line between Nosal’s sneaky behavior and innocently borrowing someone’s Hulu account. “In my view, the CFAA does not make the millions of people who engage in this ubiquitous, useful, and generally harmless conduct into unwitting federal criminals,” Reinhardt wrote. In layman’s terms, it’s unlikely that streaming services will use the ruling to go after average people and their communal Netflix account. So we’re safe for now to share away, but Nosal paid a pretty penny for his password thievery. He was ordered to pay $827,983.25 in restitution and sentenced to prison time.