Password sharing on streaming services is nothing new, and Netflix’s attempts to limit the practice in recent months are well-documented. Now, though, new piracy guidance issued by the British government suggests anyone sharing passwords in the UK could be in breach of copyright law – and even face criminal charges for fraud.
As first reported by TorrentFreak (opens in new tab), Britain’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has updated its piracy guidance to assert that “password sharing on streaming services” – which includes the likes of Netflix, Prime Video and Disney Plus – can legally be deemed an act that “break[s] copyright law.”
TorrentFreak reached out to the IPO for clarification on the legalities of password sharing, and the agency replied as follows: “There are a range of provisions in criminal and civil law which may be applicable in the case of password sharing where the intent is to allow a user to access copyright protected works without payment.”
“These provisions may include breach of contractual terms, fraud or secondary copyright infringement depending on the circumstances,” the IPO continued.
In other words, those sharing streaming service passwords in the UK could legally be prosecuted for fraud and/or breaches of copyright law – though it’s worth noting that the likelihood, in our opinion, is very slim.
For starters, the bar for what constitutes an act of fraud in the UK is low. The country’s 2006 Fraud Act (opens in new tab) notes that using the “services of a members’ club without paying and without being a member” is deemed fraud, as is posting “chargeable data or software over the internet without paying.” Both offences are commonplace – how many times have you reposted someone else’s work on social media? – and although the practice of password sharing could fall into either category, it’s highly unlikely that the Crown Prosecution Service would pursue anyone for wanting to share Stranger Things with their friends.
Publicly aligning with such draconian action would also spell reputational disaster for streaming services that have actively encouraged password sharing in the past (as recently as 2017, Netflix tweeted (opens in new tab) “love is sharing a password”).
However, while password sharing isn’t likely to put you behind bars in the UK or anywhere else any time soon, the British government’s official line on the legalities of such behavior will give Netflix the confidence – and the legal mandate – to follow through with its ambitious plans to introduce account sharing surcharges in 2023.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the likes of Prime Video and Disney Plus follow suit, too, if Netflix’s drastic action reaps a significant revenue boost in the months following its rollout.
For more Netflix-related content, check out our breakdown of Netflix’s cheaper, ad-supported tier, as well as its new remote logout feature.