Technology

The UK says sharing Netflix passwords is illegal, could be criminal fraud

It’s a known fact that a huge number of streaming service subscribers share their passwords with friends and family. Netflix is trying to crack down on the practice, and the UK government certainly condemns it: password sharing in the UK is a violation of copyright law and could be considered criminal fraud.

TorrentFreak writes that the UK Government’s Intellectual Property Office published new piracy guidance yesterday in the form of a campaign in partnership with Meta that’s designed to help people avoid piracy and counterfeit goods online.

Most of the advice we’ve heard plenty of times before, but in a section under the heading Piracy, one of the listed activities that break copyright law is “password sharing on streaming services.”

TorrentFreak contacted the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) for clarification. “There is a range of provisions in criminal and civil law which may be applicable in the case of password sharing where the intent is to allow a user to access copyright-protected works without payment,” the IPO said. “These provisions may include breach of contractual terms, fraud or secondary copyright infringement depending on the circumstances.”

The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service states that using the services of a members’ club without paying and without being a member, which could be applied to sharing streaming services’ passwords, is an example of fraud.

Back in 2016, a US federal appeals court reaffirmed that password sharing could be considered a criminal offense under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), but the chances of an average consumer being pursued by Netflix or Amazon Prime are slim to zero, and UK consumers will probably be just as safe.

Most streaming services’ terms and conditions prohibit password sharing with people outside of the subscriber’s household, but up until recently, the companies had turned a blind eye to the practice—Netflix was publicly encouraging it as recently as 2017.

Since losing subscribers for the first time in a decade earlier this year, Netflix has been trying to crack down on password sharing, which happens in around a third of US households. Experiments with charging subscribers to add extra homes have taken place in Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic in preparation for a wider rollout. Netflix also started rolling out a profile transfer tool in October so new subscribers can move their viewing history, personalized recommendations, saved games and other custom settings to their own membership.