UK Government: Netflix Password Sharing May Be Illegal

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New guidance issued by the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) this week, suggested that sharing your Netflix, Disney+ and other streaming services’ password is illegal. 

Following the major backlash that ensued, the wording on IPO’s official campaign page has changed, and the direct reference to password sharing was removed.

However, in its subsequent official reply to Cord Busters and other media outlets, the IPO reiterated that password sharing may, in some cases, be a breach of copyright law – but it’s up to the service provider (that is, the affected streaming service) to take action through the courts.

With Netflix password sharing among friends and relatives who don’t live with you being such a common habit, this may imply that thousands of people (or more) around the country are de facto criminals.

Meanwhile, Netflix is getting ready to release its ‘Extra Members’ scheme in the UK, which will make people who share accounts pay for each additional member outside of their household (see below for more on that).

Netflix on TV
Photo: Deposit Photos

UK Government: Password Sharing Is Illegal… Sometimes

Sharing your Netflix (and other streaming services) password is often mentioned in money-saving guides as a way to share the cost of the popular American streaming subscription service – either with family members who don’t necessarily live with you, or even among groups of friends.

However, password sharing (with people who don’t live with you) is against Netflix’s terms of service. For a long time, the company turned a blind eye to account sharing, and even though that’s about to change – most people haven’t looked at this common practice as being illegal.

This week’s password sharing confusion started on Monday, when the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) launched a campaign (with Meta, owner of Facebook) again “counterfeit and piracy”.

The IPO is the official UK government body responsible for intellectual property (IP) rights including patents, designs, trade marks and copyright.

Copyright law book with court gavel

Originally, as noticed by the Torrent Freak blog, the campaign page listed several ways in which people may commit piracy and break the law – with password sharing mentioned as one of those ways:

“Piracy is a major issue for the entertainment and creative industries.

“Pasting internet images into your social media, password sharing on streaming services and accessing the latest films, tv series or live sports events through kodi boxes, fire sticks or Apps without paying a subscription all break copyright law.

“Not only are you breaking the law but stopping someone earning a living from their hard work.

Following the media backlash, the wording was changed on the IPO campaign’s main page – and password sharing is no longer mentioned:

“Piracy is a major issue for the entertainment and creative industries.

“Pasting internet images into your social media without permission, or accessing films, tv series or live sports events through Kodi boxes, hacked Fire Sticks or apps without paying a subscription is an infringement of copyright and you may be committing a crime.”

However, when we reached out to the IPO for clarification, a spokesperson said that Copyright law remains unchanged, and password sharing may indeed be considered a breach of copyright law in some cases:

“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.

“Where these provisions are provided in civil law, it would be up to the service provider to take action through the courts if required.”

In other words, this would be left to the streaming service providers (in this case) to decide whether they want to take password-sharing cases to the courts.

Streaming services on phone prime netflix disney 1200
(Photo: Deposit Photos / Miglagoa)

We reached out again to the IPO for clarification regarding the changes made to the campaign’s website – and will update this article accordingly if we get further comments.

What’s Netflix Doing About Password Sharing?

While it’s unlikely Netflix will seek legal action against customers who share passwords – the company did announce recently that it has “landed on a thoughtful approach to monetising account sharing”.

Following a testing period in several countries, Netflix is almost ready for the wider release of their “Extra Members” scheme, which will make people who share accounts pay for each additional member outside of their household, in early 2023.

Netflix Extra Members graphic
Extra Netflix Members (Photo: Netflix)

Currently, if you are subscribed to Netflix’s “Standard Plan” (£10.99/month), you can stream content on up to two devices at the same time.

The Premium 4K Plan (£15.99/m) lets you stream on up to four devices. 

This means that up to four individuals, who can be in different homes or even in different countries, can watch Netflix at the same time, under the same account. But this also means Netflix gets just one paying subscriber instead of four.

The upcoming Extra Member feature will let subscribers add paid sub-accounts for people they don’t live with, each with their own profile, personalized recommendations, login and password.

Netflix Add extra member
Illustration: Netflix

The cost of adding those extra members will be lower than Netflix’s standard prices. During the trial, each extra member cost roughly a quarter of Netflix’s regular price in that country – which would translate to around £3 per Extra Member in the UK (though pricing can of course change by the time the scheme launches here).

How Will Netflix Know I’m Sharing My Password?

At the moment, when a device outside of your household signs in to an account or is used persistently, Netflix says it may ask you to verify that device before it can be used to watch Netflix, 

Netflix on a mobile phone
Photo: Deposit Photos / Grinvalds

Alternatively, you will be asked to switch your “Netflix Household” (a single household is associated with the primary account owner’s devices and the devices used by others who live in that Netflix household).

Netflix says it uses information such as IP addresses, device IDs, and account activity to detect devices within (or outside of) a single household. 

Therefore, if Netflix suspects you’re using the password of someone outside of your household – it may first ask the account owner to verify your device, and, in the future – pay for an extra sub-account.

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