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Could Sharing Your Netflix Password Make You A Federal Criminal?

by Melony Roy

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- These days, sharing one's Netflix or Hulu password with a friend or family member is somewhat of a common practice, but under a new federal ruling, it could be a crime.

A recent federal court ruling suggests sharing your passwords to streaming sites like Netflix, HBO Go, and Hulu could land you in behind bars. But Philadelphia intellectual property Attorney Richard Peirce says don't expect the feds to come knocking on your door.

"It doesn't appear that these services like Netflix or HBO as of yet has made any type of big issue over that. I would imagine that many of these services probably have specific rules that the sharing of passwords is frowned upon. It's probably not something that these services are necessarily going to be in favor of in any type of high endorsement perspective but they're not yet at the point where they've turned it into a legal issue," said Peirce.

In fact, video streaming had nothing to do with this case.

"These were former employees who at one point had access to the computer networks had their permissions specifically revoked and then they went and found a back door to get access back to those services. That's what the majority opinion focuses on to determine their was criminal liability under the statue," Peirce explained.

In a dissent, a judge argued the ruling could hypothetically lead to a precedent where anyone who shared a password could be seen as violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

"Until there's some pressure from the streaming services for prosecutors to use the statutes because there's really high economic harm taking place, I would be very surprised to at least see anything in the near future," said Peirce.

Streaming sites don't seem worried about password sharing.

Richard Piepler, a Chief Executive at HBO, has said password sharing wasn't encouraged, but wasn't a big enough problem to warrant the network's attention.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings echoed the sentiment saying people sharing an account hasn't really been a problem for his company.

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