There's some bad news for people who use and share their Netflix and HBO Go accounts: It's technically a federal crime.
The innocuous act of sharing passwords on the streaming services, which it's fair to assume a lot of people do, is a violation of federal law, according to a July 5 ruling issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The ruling states that sharing a password without the authorization of the owner — per the specific 2004 case the ruling was about — is a crime that's punishable under the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. For the case in question, David Nosal, a former employee of executive search firm Korn Ferry, was found guilty for using the login information of a current Korn Ferry employee to access the company's private database.
So would that mean that if you're using your parents or friends' account, but they are aware that you're using it, you would be spared? Technically, no. According to Variety, the "owner" is the streaming service platform, like Netflix or HBO — so the approval of the individual subscriber wouldn't matter.
However, it's important to note that the gravity of setting this precedent — establishing that millions of Americans could technically be breaking the law — wasn't lost on Judge Stephen Reinhardt. The Ninth Circuit judge wrote in his dissenting opinion on the case that it would unnecessarily affect millions of Americans.
"In my view, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act does not make the millions of people who engage in this ubiquitous, useful and generally harmless conduct into unwitting federal criminals," Reinhardt said. "The majority does not provide, nor do I see, a workable line which separates the consensual password sharing in this case from the consensual password sharing of millions of legitimate account holders, which may also be contrary to the policies of system owners."
Moreover, if companies like Netflix and HBO Go were to do this, it would be a public relations nightmare — and HBO's CEO Richard Plepler has already said he doesn't mind people sharing their HBO Go passwords. "It's not that we're unmindful of it, it just has no impact on the business," Plepler told BuzzFeed in 2014.
For now, then, users can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they can still binge through Game of Thrones. Meanwhile, spilling important TV spoilers is still legal, if also horrible.