Is Sharing Your Netflix Password Illegal? Maybe.

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This may come as a surprise to you, but not everyone who streams programs on apps like HBO Go and Netflix is a paying subscriber. It's not exactly a secret practice; even Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has stated publicly that he believes sharing passwords is a "positive thing." But, according to The A.V. Club, a recent ruling by two federal court judges may turn the seemingly harmless act into a crime.

Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas and Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown upheld the ruling in the case of the United States of America v. David Nosal [PDF] last week, which was originally argued in October 2015. Nosal was accused of using a protected computer without permission with "intent to defraud," and was found in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), as well as the Economic Espionage Act for his theft of trade secrets. Disagreeing with Thomas and McKeown, Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt argued that the case was about more than Nosal's actions than it was the CFAA.

"This case is about password sharing," Reinhardt wrote in his dissent. "People frequently share their passwords, notwithstanding the fact that websites and employers have policies prohibiting it. In my view, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) does not make the millions of people who engage in this ubiquitous, useful, and generally harmless conduct into unwitting federal criminals,"

He added that under the ruling, "protected computers" can be interpreted as "a computer affected by or involved in interstate commerce—effectively all computers with internet access," and used coworkers being asked to print boarding passes from another person's computer and spouses logging into bank accounts as examples.

In response to the dissenting argument, the judges concluded that upholding the ruling "bears little resemblance to asking a spouse to log in to an email account to print a boarding pass." Companies like Netflix outline restrictions in their Terms of Use documents (which virtually no one reads), but some also make it possible for several users to be logged into a single account simultaneously. Fusion argued that the new ruling may open the door for the law to be carried out "vaguely," which could lead to serious consequences the next time you want to binge-watch Breaking Bad on your friend's dime.

[h/t The A.V. Club]