You could face jail time for sharing your Netflix password

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:

History of Netflix
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History of Netflix
400303 03: Ready-to-be-shipped DVDs roll down an assembly line 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 01: 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 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)
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)

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

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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