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No one is going to prison for sharing Netflix passwords

on July 12, 2016, 5:40pm

Every Netflix user (and their mother, and their friend from college and their favorite barista…) got a rude awakening last week when word spread that sharing streaming site passwords could land users in prison. But everybody can (Netflix and) chill because the whole thing was a colossal misunderstanding. Yes, a federal appellate court did mention sharing passwords in a recent ruling. But that doesn’t mean you’re heading to the big house if you let your folks catch up on Making A Murderer.

United States v. David Nosal — the actual case that started this whole scare — has nothing to do with Netflix or other streaming sites. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision that Nosal knowingly stole trade secrets from a password-protected computer and violated both the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Economic Espionage Act in doing so.

So how did those crazy headlines come about? Well, in his dissent to the ruling, Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt worried that the ruling might set a precedent that could slippery slope its way to sending generous HBO Go users to jail under the CFAA. And thus, alarmist headline gold was born.

Not to mention, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has shared his opinion on sharing before. At this year’s CES, Hastings said he’s fine with the sharing that many users do.

“We love people sharing Netflix whether they’re two people on a couch or 10 people on a couch,”  he said. “That’s a positive thing, not a negative thing.”

So, to recap: the worst thing that can happen to you if you share passwords is somebody totally wrecking your recommendations.