Is it Legal to Share Your Netflix Password?

Category: Video

Lots of people share their Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime account with family and friends. But is it a crime to share your video streaming password with friends and family? And will artificial intelligence soon put an end to freeloading on the popular streaming services? Read on to find out...

Sharing Streaming Accounts: Piracy Lite

Have you ever seen a message like this? "Your Netflix account is in use on another device. Please stop playing on other devices to continue." That may happen if you're oversharing, or using someone else's account. But how much sharing is too much sharing? And when does it rise to the level of a crime?

The point could soon be moot, according to Synamedia, a software company that recently announced new technology that uses artificial intelligence to help streaming companies like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu put the kibosh on accounts that don’t belong to those using them. The software can determine if someone is logged in at home, at work, in a dorm, or a hotel. And presumably, it can figure out if that location is the account holder's home, or somewhere else.

Millennials are are the main moochers, with 26% admitting they use someone else’s password to get Netflix or other video streaming services for free. Usually, it’s their parents’ account, but students have no problem with sharing passwords among themselves. A Consumer Reports poll found that 46% of Americans have shared their streaming account passwords with someone outside of their home. About 11% of broadband-using households receive Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, or some other streaming services by sharing someone else’s password, according to a May 2015 study conducted by Parks Associates. I've not seen an update to that report, but one can only assume that the numbers are not going down.

Is Netflix Sharing Illegal?

Netflix, in its terms of service, says: "The Netflix service and any content viewed through the service are for your personal and non-commercial use only and may not be shared with individuals beyond your household." Netflix denied earlier this year that they are working with Synamedia. But Parks Associates, a firm that reports on the the online video industry, says that password sharing will cost providers about $550 million in 2019. With over half a billion dollars left on the table, one wonders if they'll be tempted to crack down on the practice.

How Much Sharing is Allowed?

For now, the streaming services don't seem overly concerned about password sharing, at least in their public statements. The current strategy seems to be to control that with their own technology, and with pricing tiers that permit different levels of account sharing.

Netflix customers have three options. There's the 1-screen account which allows no sharing. Two-screen and four-screen options cost a few dollars extra per month, and are supposed to be limited to sharing within a household. But it seems the company doesn't strictly enforce those restriction, nor do they assess any penalties for violators. Amazon Prime limits customers to two devices for simultaneous viewing. Hulu has a limit of two viewing devices at a time, but offers an Unlimited Screens option for an extra $15/month.

Of course, these restrictions only apply to simultaneous viewing. If you share your password with 10 people, and they're all watching at different times, you won't hit any multiple screen limits. And for the most part, the content providers don't seem to have a problem with that.

In Tennessee, however, sharing a streaming service password is a misdemeanor under a "theft-of-services" law that was updated in 2011 to explicitly include “web entertainment services.” Violators face up to a year in jail and up to a $2,500 fine. I can’t find any evidence of prosecutions under this law, and one wonders why the state would have it on the books when the streaming services seems quite capable of managing the situation themselves.

Couples who share streaming accounts may find it difficult to stop after they break up. An article on Slate asks, “Do couples need pre-nups for their shared streaming passwords?” It explores several relationships, some bittersweet and some horrifying, in which people continued to share streaming passwords after their relationships ended. Several examples left me shaking my head and mentally urging the account owners to “just change the darned password!”

Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services are unlikely to crack down on password-sharing in the near future. Even half a billion dollars is a drop in the streaming industry’s bucket, and every freeloader who becomes addicted to streaming media is a potential paying customer when Mom and Dad (or an ex-girlfriend) cut the cord. But Netflix’s recent price changes suggests that password-sharing needs to be reined in, or at least “disincentivized.”

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Is it Legal to Share Your Netflix Password?"

Posted by:

Jay T
22 Jul 2019

As soon as I subscribe to one of these, I'll have some thots to share.

Posted by:

22 Jul 2019

I do use my friends password but I only watch a few hours a week at most and usually when I know he is sleeping. If I am prevented from using his account, I will not subscribe on my own. It is not important enough to me, to be honest.

Posted by:

John T.
22 Jul 2019

Not important to me as I have canceled my subscription. Found that I just do not spend enough time in the app searching for things to watch. not to discount the price increases I experienced. Sorry got to go Netflix.

Posted by:

22 Jul 2019

I have Amazon Prime video as part of my Prime subscription. I do not share my password. If I had a discrete video service account, I might possibly share for occasional use by another family member or friend.

As far as actually having an inexpensive subscription such as Prime or Netflix, I enjoy having such a service. There is original content I like, along with the movies, documentaries and TV shows. I gave up cable/satellite tv a while back because it’s ridiculously expensive given today’s options, even with the retention discounts. I live in an area with excellent OTA reception, so I use an antenna, along with a 20 dollar per month streaming service (Philo.) Prime video rounds it out nicely. I have plenty of content to enjoy for far, far less than I was paying for discounted satellite tv service.

Posted by:

22 Jul 2019

Donna, it seems that your honesty is selective.

Posted by:

22 Jul 2019

I have Amazon Prime, and share the PW with my daughter. For the amount of money I spend at Amazon if they object, I'll take all of my business elsewhere.

Also have Netflix, same deal, but I pay for the premium account, which is for multiple screens. 2 screens in my place, 2 in hers. Seems a reasonable deal.

Hulu states that they only allows one screen at a time so I have not tested them out.

Posted by:

22 Jul 2019

I am certain that Netflix and other streaming services incentivise sharing with as many users as possible. One of the principal metrics which determine share value is the number of active users.
The more the merrier...and more profitable!!!

Posted by:

22 Jul 2019

Is it legal ? It's not even ethical.

Posted by:

Stuart Fraser
22 Jul 2019

If Netflix ever did resort to this practise
I would consider closing my account,the only people I share my account with are my son and
daughter anyway,and to cancel would be no big

Posted by:

charles kinbote
22 Jul 2019

If you leave a $10 bill on a park bench, someone will certainly take it. No one is doing anything illegal or unethical, neither you nor the recipient.
In the case of Netflix, for every $10 they "leave on the park bench" they get about $15 from the stock exchange.

Posted by:

23 Jul 2019

David, I didn't post so that my integrity would be brought into question, I posted to point out that not every person who uses another person's password causes lost revenue. I was a Netflix member for many years when it was only DVDs in the mail. Movies would sit for months while I kept my subscription active. It seemed silly for me to remain a member when I really had no intention of actually using the service.

Posted by:

23 Jul 2019

I have Hulu, NetFlix, Prime, and others. I share all with my family. Would probably move from one to the other if limited, although I doubt any will.

Posted by:

26 Jul 2019

So let's see. You have a daughter whose husband left her with four kids and two jobs but still needing welfare. They give you the legal option of two screens and five users including one known simply as "kids". Does someone out there really expect her and the kids not to be among the users?
Come on Tennessee, a year's hard time for that?

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