Netflix Customers Face Criminal Charges For Sharing Passwords

The U.K. Intellectual Property Office says sharing a Netflix password is a violation of copyright law.

By Douglas Helm | Published

netflix password sharing

It’s no secret that streaming giant Netflix isn’t pumped about password sharing, but could you get into legal trouble for sharing your streaming account? The Intellectual Property Office in the United Kingdom says yes. BBC reported that the Intellectual Property Office considers the practice a violation of copyright law.

Ever since Netflix started, password sharing has been pretty common. Families and friends share them and there’s the classically awkward and hilarious scenario where exes use an account long after you’ve broken up. In other words, it’s something that feels pretty far from illegal.

In recent years, Netflix has done its best to crack down on password sharing, but threatening legal action has never been a part of the streaming giant’s plan (at least officially). The practice is listed as a violation of the terms of service, but the worst that could happen is your account getting suspended or shut down. The prospect of going to jail or paying a fine for letting your grandma watch Stranger Things on your account seems pretty ridiculous.

stranger things death note

According to BBC, the IPO removed the guidance about Netflix and password sharing from the government website, but a spokesperson says their position on the matter remains the same. It seems highly unlikely, to say the least, that any streaming platform would pursue legal action against such an innocuous practice. It would likely alienate customers and drive them away from the platform.

Instead, Netflix has embraced other methods to discourage password sharing. Right now, it is working on giving users the ability to transfer accounts and create sub-accounts that friends and family can pay extra for attached to the primary account. Netflix also introduced a lower price tier with ads to entice users to sign up for their own account rather than borrow an account from someone else.

A research firm called Digital i estimated that roughly four million UK Netflix accounts are sharing passwords. This is undoubtedly a large chunk of revenue that the streaming platform is missing out on, but it’s hard to curb people from doing it. Of all the solutions, legal action does not seem like the smart one.

The BBC article goes on to point out that a police investigation would need to take place before the Crown Prosecution Service could prosecute someone for Netflix password sharing. If there are four million accounts engaging in the practice, that sounds like a ton of paperwork and working hours that the UK police and the Crown Prosecution Service likely don’t have the bandwidth to do. In other words, if you’re worried about the police coming to knock on your door before you shared your password, you might be better off focusing your worries elsewhere.

In any case, Netflix would probably make some sort of announcement before it started pursuing legal action for password sharing. It’s been a wild few years, but if that announcement was made it would certainly be near the top of the pile for strange things that have happened. We’ll keep you updated on this and other Netflix news, but it would be surprising if too much more came out of this.