The Intellectual Property Office of the UK Government released new advice about piracy today, and it has a small, easy-to-miss detail. Copyright law says that people who share their Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Disney+ passwords break the law. And it gets worse. The IPO tells TorrentFreak that sharing passwords could also lead to fraud charges.
After starting out with only 1,000 titles in 2007, Netflix now has more than 6,600 movies and TV shows for its more than 223 million subscribers to watch.
There’s no doubt that sharing Netflix passwords helped the company grow, and by letting it be known that it was okay, the practice became the norm everywhere.
The message was clear: Netflix loves you, you love Netflix, and now all of your friends love Netflix, too. Thank you for your help.
Netflix and other streaming services like, Amazon Prime, and Disney+, still want you to love them, but should you share your password? Not really.
Password Sharing is Not Love – It’s Piracy
Five years after the now-famous tweet from Netflix, things are changing. This year was the first time in Netflix’s history that the number of subscribers went down, and competition from Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO, and dozens of other services is fierce.
“Password Sharing” is getting a makeover in the background and across the whole industry. Nobody likes “Password Piracy” in the modern world, and The ACE Anti-Piracy Coalition, which is made up of all of the above-mentioned streaming services, is no different.
Given how sensitive this is, ACE prefers to use the phrase “Unauthorized Password Sharing” as a public description, while “Without Permission” is more common elsewhere. Rights Alliance, a group that tries to stop piracy, says that sharing passwords is “Not Allowed” in Denmark, but this summer there was a small but important step forward.
The group said that the number of Danes who share passwords is “Alarmingly High” and will soon be on par with other illegal ways to get content.
The UK Government Says That Sharing Passwords Is Illegal
Since sharing passwords is almost always against the rules of a streaming service, people have tended to think of it as such. Sharing passwords is not illegal in and of itself, but Netflix and other sites don’t like it very much anymore.
The Intellectual Property Office of the UK Government quietly announced a new campaign with Meta today. The goal of the campaign is to help people avoid piracy and fake goods online.
Aside from the headline, the advice doesn’t mention Meta at all, and there’s almost no advice that hasn’t been given before. Then this shows up:
To put it mildly, the IPO’s answer was not flexible.
Password Sharing is an Illegal & Potentially Criminal Fraud
In several big UK piracy cases in the last few years, the main charge has been a fraud, even though the main crimes broke copyright laws. In the UK, fraud is a crime, and a conviction could easily stop a career or even end it. We ruled out fraud because it didn’t make sense.
Nothing Can Be Ruled Out, Says The IPO.
The IPO tells TorrentFreak that there are a number of criminal and civil laws that could be used to punish people who share passwords with the goal of letting other people access copyright-protected works without paying.
“These rules can include things like breaking a contract, being dishonest, or using someone else’s work without permission.”
Since using the “services of a members’ club without paying and without being a member” is an example of fraud in the UK, the bar for criminality is very low, unless the Crown Prosecution Service decides otherwise, of course.
A subscription streaming service going after a subscriber for fraud because they shared their password might seem like a legal option, but a PR disaster is never a business option, especially when password sharing could be stopped right now by using technology. So, what else is up for discussion?
Some Other Legal Options
Other options mentioned by the IPO have to do with contract law and licensing, which control how subscribers to act. When someone signs up for a streaming service like Netflix, they agree to the “Terms of Service.”
Most people don’t read every detail of the terms (even when the terms change via email), but Netflix’s agreement document gives the subscriber certain rights under contract and copyright law. Neither of these laws allows password sharing beyond certain limits.
It’s interesting that anti-piracy groups and rightsholders can say that sharing a password is “Illegal” or “Not Allowed,” but that sharing a password is a serious crime under current law. The Intellectual Property Office didn’t say that sharing passwords is illegal and could be a crime for no reason.
Overall, it looks like the goal is to scare people away. Making tens of thousands of people criminals is a problem the UK doesn’t need and couldn’t even begin to deal with.
Streaming services already have the tools they need to stop people from sharing passwords. Whether they want to or not is a different question.