The UK Government’s Intellectual Property Office released new advice on piracy today, with one small, easy-to-miss detail. Under copyright law, people who share their Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Disney+ passwords are breaking the law. And it gets worse. The IPO tells TorrentFreak that sharing passwords can also lead to allegations of fraud.
After starting in 2007 with just 1,000 titles, Netflix now has over 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 business grow, and letting people know it was OK helped the practice become the norm everywhere.
The message was clear: Netflix loves you, you love Netflix, and now all 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 isn’t love – it’s piracy
Five years after Netflix’s now-famous tweet, things are changing. This year marked the first time in Netflix’s history that subscriber numbers fell, and competition from Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO and dozens of other services is fierce.
“Share Password” is getting a background and industry-wide makeover. Nobody likes “Password Piracy” in the modern world, and The ACE anti-piracy coalitionwhich consists of all the streaming services mentioned above, 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 working to stop piracy, says password sharing is “not allowed” in Denmark, but this summer took a small but significant step forward.
The group said the number of Danes sharing passwords is “alarmingly high” and will soon fall on par with other illegal ways of getting content.
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The UK government says sharing passwords is illegal
Since password sharing is almost always against a streaming service’s rules, people tend to think of it as such. Sharing passwords isn’t illegal in itself, but Netflix and other sites don’t like it as much anymore.
The UK Government’s Intellectual Property Office quietly announced a new campaign featuring Meta today. The aim of the campaign is to help people avoid piracy and counterfeit 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 appears:
To say the least, the response from the IPO was inflexible.
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Sharing passwords is an illegal and potentially criminal fraud
In several major piracy cases in the UK in recent years, the main charge has been fraud, even though the main crimes have been against copyright laws. In the UK, fraud is a crime and a conviction can easily halt or even end a career. We ruled out fraud because it made no sense.
Nothing can be ruled out, says the IPO.
The IPO tells TorrentFreak that there are a number of criminal and civil laws that can be used to punish people who share passwords for the purpose of allowing other people to access copyrighted works without paying.
“These rules could include things like breaking a contract, being dishonest, or using someone else’s work without permission.”
Since using “members’ club services without paying and without being a member” is an example of fraud in the UK, the bar for crime is set very low, unless of course the prosecution decides otherwise.
A subscriber streaming service going after a subscriber for fraud because they shared their password may seem like a legal option, but a PR disaster is never a business option, especially when password sharing can now be stopped by using technology. So what else is there to discuss?
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Some other legal options
Other options mentioned by the IPO have to do with contract law and licensing, which govern how subscribers must behave. 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. None of these laws allow password sharing beyond certain limits.
Interestingly, anti-piracy groups and rights holders 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 has not said that sharing passwords is illegal and can be a crime for no reason.
In general, it seems that the goal is to scare people away. Turning tens of thousands of people into criminals is a problem the UK does not need and cannot even begin to deal with.
Streaming services already have the tools they need to prevent people from sharing passwords. Whether they want to or not is another question.
Janice has been with businesskinda for 5 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider businesskinda team, Janice seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.