A new federal court decision has made it a crime to share passwords to online streaming services such as Netflix and HBO Go, though offenders are unlikely to wind up like the inmates on "Orange Is the New Black."
According to Variety, a U.S. circuit court ruled last week that "sharing passwords without the authorization of the system's owner is a crime that can be prosecuted under the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act." That means that if you give your Netflix password to a pal, or borrow your parents' HBO Go login to stream the latest episode of "Game of Thrones" -- and do so without the direct permission of HBO or Netflix -- you're technically committing a federal crime.
But rest assured, penny-pinchers: You're unlikely to go to jail for your transgressions. Execs for both HBO and Netflix have said in the past that they weren't concerned about password-swapping, with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings going so far as to declare the process "a positive thing," since it actually led to more people eventually signing on as new subscribers.
And according to federal judge Stephen Reinhardt, who wrote the dissenting opinion in last week's federal case, the ruling is a flawed one, anyway. Per Variety:
"The majority is wrong to conclude that a person necessarily accesses a computer account 'without authorization' if he does so without the permission of the system owner," Reinhardt wrote in his dissent. He cited examples where the ruling would make it illegal to engage in some common examples of password-sharing, such as logging in to a Facebook account on behalf of a friend or relative.
You may technically be criminals, password sharers, but at least you can take solace in the fact that Netflix and HBO are unlikely to sue you for it anytime soon. (We can't say the same for Mark Zuckerberg, though.)
Photo credit: JoJo Whilden/Netflix