You could face jail time for sharing your Netflix password

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Appeals Court Ruling May Criminalize Sharing Netflix Passwords

Most Netflix subscribers are all guilty of it in at least some capacity: sharing your password for the streaming service with a family member, friend, or even friend of a friend.

In some ways, password sharing almost seems like a rite of passage. How could you let someone miss out on all those binge-worthy original series?

SEE ALSO: 5 ways to save on Netflix

But what's always been common practice has just been declared an act against the law – if you've ever shared your Netflix password, you could be guilty of committing a federal crime.

Yes, really.

The decision comes as a result of a federal court case in California (United States v. Nosal) in which a former Korn/Ferry International employee, David Nosal, was using a password from another Korn/Ferry employee (who was still employed with the company) to download information to use at his new job.

Nosal was charged under CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) conspiracy, theft of trade secrets and three additional counts under the law.

He was sentenced to jail time, probation and just shy of $1M in fines and fees.

So what exactly does this have to do with Netflix passwords?

A look at the history of Netflix:

30 PHOTOS
History of Netflix
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History of Netflix
An exterior view of Netflix headquarters is shown in Los Gatos, Calif., Friday, July 21, 2006. Netflix earnings report will be released after the bell. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Netflix Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings holds up two of their most popular DVD rentals "The Perfect Storm" and "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles" at their distribution plant in San Jose, Calif., Monday, Sept. 10, 2001. Online DVD rental company Netflix is emerging as one of the Internet's rising stars that has attracted a cast of 300,000 subscribers who pay a $19.95 monthly fee to get up to three DVD rentals mailed to them. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
400303 03: Ready-to-be-shipped DVDs roll down an assembly line January 29, 2002 in San Jose, CA. The online DVD rental site Netflix.com has 500,000 subscribers who can rent, receive and return unlimited discs per month by mail. (Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
400303 01: Netflix.com Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings holds a ready-to-be-shipped DVD January 29, 2002 in San Jose, CA. The online DVD rental site has 500,000 subscribers who can rent, receive and return unlimited discs per month by mail. (Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
400303 05: Packages of DVDs await shipment at the Netflix.com headquarters January 29, 2002 in San Jose, CA. The online DVD rental site has 500,000 subscribers who can rent, receive and return unlimited discs per month by mail. (Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
**FILE** Netflix customer Carleen Ho holds up DVD movies, "Talladega Nights" and "Pirates of the Caribbean' that she rented from Netflix, at her home in Palo Alto, Calif., in this Jan. 24, 2007 file photo. Netflix is expected to release quarterly earnings on Monday, July 23, 2007. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)
Close up of the Netflix's new set top box at Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif., Friday, May 16, 2008. Netflix Inc. on Tuesday will introduce its first solution for subscribers who want entertainment delivered directly to their television sets with just a few clicks on a remote control. The breakthrough comes in the form of 5-inch-by-5-inch device tailored for a year-old service that uses high-speed Interneet connections to stream more than 10,000 movies and TV shows from Netflix's library. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings shows off their new set top box at Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif., Friday, May 16, 2008. Netflix Inc. on Tuesday will introduce its first solution for subscribers who want entertainment delivered directly to their television sets with just a few clicks on a remote control. The breakthrough comes in the form of 5-inch-by-5-inch device tailored for a year-old service that uses high-speed Interneet connections to stream more than 10,000 movies and TV shows from Netflix's library. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Actress Teri Hatcher, second from left, and actor James Denton, right, perform together with the celebrity cover band "Band From TV" at the "Netflix Live! on Location" concert and screening series at Griffith Park in Los Angeles on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg)
FILE - In this July 20, 2010 file photo, a Netflix subscriber turns on Netflix in Palo Alto, Calif. Netflix's streaming-video audience of more than 20 million subscribers has led many to label it a kind of digital TV network, and one that may grow into an HBO rival _ if it's not already. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)
Actor Steven Van Zandt and wife Maureen Van Zandt attend the premiere of a Netflix original series "Lilyhammer" at the Crosby Street Hotel on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)
Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos and wife Nicole Avant attend the TIME 100 Gala celebrating the "100 Most Influential People in the World" at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Tuesday April 23, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Taylor Schilling, left, Cindy Holland and Piper Kerman attend the premiere of the Netflix original series "Orange is the New Black" on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
A general view of atmosphere seen at the Netflix Emmy Party, on Sunday, Sep, 22, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Netflix/AP Images)
Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer, Robin Wright, Kevin Spacey and Cindy Holland, Netflix VP of original content seen at Netflix 'House of Cards' Los Angeles Season 2 Special Screening, on Thursday, Feb, 13, 2014 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Netflix/AP Images)
Ricky Gervais and Conan O'Brien seen at Netflix 'Derek' Season 2 Academy screening at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre on Tuesday, May 28, 2014, in North Hollywood, CA. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Netflix/AP Images)
The cast at a Special Fan Screening of Netflix's "Hemlock Grove" held at The Arclight Theater on Thursday, July 10, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Invision for Netflix/AP Images)
Laverne Cox at Netflix's FYC "Orange is the New Black" Emmy Panel on Monday, August 4, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Invision for Netflix/AP Images)
Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix seen at the Netflix Celebration of 2014 TIFF on Sunday, Sep. 7, 2014, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision for Netflix/AP Images)
Actress Jacinda Barrett attends the Netflix original series premiere of "Bloodline" at the SVA Theatre on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR LG ELECTRONICS - Matt Lloyd, director of photography for Marvel’s “Daredevil," explains how OLED technology helps deliver his creative vision to audiences at LG and Netflix’s Dare to See OLED event, Wednesday, April 8, 2015 in New York. (Photo by Jason DeCrow/Invision for LG Electronics/AP Images)
Kevin Spacey seen at Netflix 'House of Cards' Academy Screening at AMPAS on Monday, April 27, 2015, in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Netflix/AP Images)
Tina Desai seen at the world premiere of the Netflix original series "Sense8" on Wednesday, May 27, 2015, in San Francisco, CA. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Netflix/AP Images)
Jane Krakowski, from left, Tina Fey, Ellie Kemper and Robert Carlock arrive at Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" Q&A Screening at Pacific Design Center on Sunday, June 7, 2015, in West Hollywood, Calif. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)
attends Netflix's "Orange is the New Black" ORANGECON Celebration at Skylight Clarkson SQ on Thursday, June 11, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
This June 24, 2015 photo shows the Netflix Apple TV app icon, in South Orange, N.J. (AP Photo/Dan Goodman)
Director/Producer, Hot Girls Wanted- Jill Bauer, Director, What Happened, Miss Simone? - Liz Garbus, Director, Virunga - Orlando von Einsiedel, Director, Chef’s Table - David Gelb and Subject and Executive Producer, Tig - Tig Notaro seen at Netflix 2015 Summer TCA at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Beverly Hills, CA. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Netflix/AP Images)
FILE - In this March 13, 2007 file photo, Steven Avery listens to testimony in the courtroom at the Calumet County Courthouse in Chilton, Wis. The Netflix documentary series âMaking a Murdererâ tells the story of a Wisconsin man wrongly convicted of sexual assault only to be accused, along with his nephew, of killing a photographer two years after being released. An online petition has collected hundreds of thousands of digital signatures seeking a pardon for the pair of convicted killers-turned-social media sensations based on a Netflix documentary series that cast doubt on the legal process. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings gives a keynote address, January 6, 2016 at the CES 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
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Nosal's sentencing was based off of a part of the CFAA that declares an action illegal if it involves any person who "knowingly and with intent to defraud, accesses a protected computer without authorization."

This clause (and the majority of the CFAA) is intended to primarily prevent security breaches and hacking.

By the court's ruling in Nosal's case, however, this means that US citizens are violating the CFAA every time they share a password to a subscription-based streaming service, be it Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu or any other variation (unless the service provider authorizes the sharing).

Three judges from the United States Court of Appeals voted in favor of Nosal's conviction.

But not all were in agreement, particularly Ninth Circuit judge Stephen Reinhardt:

"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."

Ninth Circuit judge Margaret McKeown also sided with Reinhardt, explaining that this case was more to do with the potential danger of accessing another's private information through password sharing, not so much about sharing passwords for leisure and convenience:

"...The circumstance here—former employees whose computer access was categorically revoked and who surreptitiously accessed data owned by their former employer—bears little resemblance to asking a spouse to log in to an email account to print a boarding pass."

Though this case may be a one-off situation in which password sharing is deemed illegal, it sets the ground for potential trouble ahead for those in sticky situations where password sharing is involved.

Our final verdict? Don't expect to be taken in to custody for giving your password to your old college roommate.

Keep doing you, password moochers.

RELATED: Movies leaving Netflix this summer

11 PHOTOS
Movies leaving Netflix after June 2016
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Movies leaving Netflix after June 2016

"Along Came Polly"

Nothing inspires secondhand embarrassment quite like Ben Stiller's many faux pas in the 2004 rom-com Along Came Polly. Catch the hilariously cringe-worthy Ethiopian food scene (among many others) on-demand before it's too late.

"The Central Park Five"

This mind-blowing documentary follows five New York City teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of a horrendous crime back in 1989. The film provides an unvarnished glimpse into our flawed criminal justice system that's both devastating and enlightening; catch it before it's gone.

"A League of Their Own"

This star-studded film is an irrefutable classic and a must-see for all Netflix aficionados. The perfect summer flick follows an all-female baseball team's meteoric rise to fame in World War II America. Stream it on-demand today.

"2001: A Space Odyssey"

This 1968 science-fiction film from the brilliant mind of Stanley Kubrick is a mind-bending classic. 2001: A Space Odyssey is just as much a visual masterpiece as it is an intergalactic journey through time and space. It's well worth a Friday night in.

"Notting Hill"

This late-'90s film featuring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts is an uplifting romantic comedy perfect for a Friday girls' night in (complete with rosé). Catch it before it's gone!

"Mean Girls"

Arguably the best movie on this entire list, this work of art from comedic genius Tina Fey and accomplished director Mark Waters needs no introduction. How many times can you watch Mean Girls in one summer? The limit does not exist.

The "Back to the Future" Series

All three Back to the Future movies will grace the Netflix airwaves come July, giving you the opportunity to watch the entire sci-fi series from start to finish (possibly in one sitting). 

"The Big Short"

If the pile of awards isn't any indication, The Big Short is a captivating film offering a previously unseen view of the 2008 financial crisis that derailed our postgraduate plans and toppled the American economy. This is a must-see for anyone born between 1980 and 1995. 

"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

While not famous for its feminist rhetoric, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is the 1953 romantic comedy that purported a then-obscure Marilyn Monroe to superstardom. Watch for Monroe's iconic rendition of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend."

"The Lovely Bones"

From the writer who brought you the book Lucky comes the screenplay adaptation of her award-winning novel The Lovely Bones. While not for the faint of heart, this part-thriller, part-drama offers a strangely uplifting outlook on life after death.

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