Tennessee Nixes Sharing With Friends And Family

Halt! Put your hands in the air and don’t move. If you live in Tennessee and you’ve shared your Netflix or Hulu password, or any other password for a premium service, you may have broken the law. In a move engineered, in part, by recording industry officials, the Tennessee legislature passed and Governor Bill Haslam signed into law legislation that criminalizes sharing passwords. According to Slate, the new law, which goes into effect July 1, 2011, was built on an existing Tennessee law:

“… used to prosecute people who steal cable television or leave restaurants without paying their tabs. But by adding ‘entertainment subscription service’ to the list of things protected by that law, critics say the law could be used to go after people who share health club memberships or even magazine subscriptions.”

Proponents claim that the law is targeted at password thieves and the like who steal and sell passwords in bulk. So if the main targets are hackers stealing and selling passwords, why didn’t the legislation clarify as much? Unfortunately for the rest us, the law can be applied to anyone who shares just their personal password. In theory, sharing amongst family members will be tolerated, but big offenders, like college students sharing with their entire dorm are something else.

Punishment ranges from fines (up to $2,500) and misdemeanor charges (with possible jail time of up to a year) for stealing $500 or less of entertainment. Felony charges are on the table for thefts over $500 or repeat offenders. The companies who are technically being hurt by account sharing have put some limits in place (e.g., Netflix limits parallel streaming to four devices at a time) to protect their content, but it’s unclear if they joined efforts with the supposed content providers to push for such legislation.

But if it’s really a problem for these companies, why don’t their terms of service state as much? As Business Insider pointed out – the only related clause in the Netflix terms of service states:

BY SHARING THE NETFLIX SERVICE PASSWORD, THE ACCOUNT OWNER AGREES TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ASSURING THAT HOUSEHOLD MEMBERS COMPLY WITH THE TERMS OF USE AND SUCH ACCOUNT OWNER SHALL BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ACTIONS OF THE HOUSEHOLD MEMBERS.

So if anybody violates the terms of service while using your account, it’s your fault, but there’s nothing about how many people you can share your account with.

The reality is that such services assume that accounts will be shared to an extent, particularly in the context of a family. If individual accounts were required of everyone living in a household the convenience and efficiency of such content services is diminished.

Now under the law, media streaming companies will have the option to report behavior they believe to be illegal. It will be interesting to see which companies make the first complaint. Also, while enforcement may prove tricky, this legal gray area won’t necessarily stop other states or even the federal government from adopting similar laws in an attempt to fight digital thievery.

So the big question becomes, if this law isn’t the answer to the problem, then what’s the solution? What do you think is a fair way to protect content and its creators while still keeping access easy?

About Britt Raybould

Britt Raybould has a passion for telling stories and she specializes in helping companies figure out how to tell their own stories. Through her firm, Write Bold, she shows companies how storytelling can define them, both to their customers and within their industry. When she remembers to, Britt blogs on her personal sites at bold-words.com and brittraybould.com. You can find Britt on Twitter @britter.

Twitter: britter

2 Responses to Tennessee Nixes Sharing With Friends And Family

  1. Anonymous says:

    Immigration Lawyers London

    http://www.thelawportal.co.uk/immigration-lawyers/west-london/london/A-D-Themis

    Looking for Immigration Lawyers London Get the right legal solution quickly and conveniently.

     

  2. Anna says:

    I just sent this post to a bunch of my friends as I agree with most
    of what you’re saying here and the way you’ve presented it is awesome.
    ___________
    cj law