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The UK government says sharing passwords on streaming services is illegal UPDATE

The UK government says sharing passwords on streaming services is illegal UPDATE

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The UK Government’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) announced an interesting new campaign in partnership with Meta yesterday, which among other things decided to label “password sharing on streaming services [e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime etc.] … without paying a subscription” as breaking copyright law. There are many new criminals.

The new anti-online piracy guidance states: “Piracy is a big issue for the entertainment and creative industries. Paste internet images into social media, password sharing on streaming services and accessing the latest movies, tv series or live sports events through kodi boxes, fire sticks or apps without paying a subscription all violate copyright law. Not only are you breaking the law, but you are hindering someone who earns a living from hard work.”

The news that accidentally sharing your paid Netflix, NOW TV, Disney+ or other password with someone else is now actually a criminal offense will probably come as quite a shock to most, especially since the act has become somewhat normalized in recent years and is even credited with helping the streaming industry grow. Nevertheless, the IPO does not mince words on the subject.

A spokesperson for the IPO said (TorrentFreak):

“There are a number of criminal and civil law provisions that may apply in the event of password sharing where the intent is to allow a user to access copyrighted works without payment. These provisions may include breach of contract, fraud or secondary copyright infringement depending on the circumstances .”

First, let’s be clear about something here, most online streaming services actually support some degree of password sharing in their terms, albeit usually limited to those who live in your “household” (ie to support family viewing).

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But sharing your password with people you don’t live with is often a different matter, even if you extrapolate that (e.g. Netflix only describes this activity as “unauthorized” or “not allowed“) to something that is overt”illegal” and a “potential crime” seems like a very low bar to set for criminality (it’s more likely to just be illegal – a civil case).

The goal here is clearly one of deterrence, as any streaming provider taking legal action, or even police action to arrest people, for sharing a streaming password seems likely to result in a large-scale political and public relations disaster.

On the other hand, we have seen previously how “law firms” with dubious reputations are willing to exploit anything that can bring them a little extra cash, even when the evidence base is incredibly weak (eg speculative billing for alleged cases of internet copyright infringement). The last point about proof will also be central here, since it is not at all easy to prove that someone abuses password sharing.

The streaming services can of course reduce this further themselves. But they don’t because that would make it much more difficult to access the content you’ve paid for while outside your home (eg watching the Netflix episode on the train via another mobile or public WiFi network, etc.) .

As a side note, the IPO also appears to be going after “paste internet images into social media“, so at this point almost everyone in the UK is pretty fragile 🙂 .

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UPDATE 15:09

The government appears to have updated the offending paragraph to remove any mention of password sharing, although they have not yet retracted the supportive comment they made to TF. On top of that, they’ve added some extra text after “Paste internet images into social media” to make a caveat that this only applies when you do it”without permission“. Few.

The new text reads: “Piracy is a big issue for the entertainment and creative industries. Pasting internet images on social media without permission, or accessing movies, TV shows or live sports events through Kodi boxes, hacked Fire Sticks or apps without paying a subscription is a copyright violation and you could be committing a crime.”


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