Netflix password sharing could be a crime in the U.K.

Mike Wheatley

The practice of password sharing on video streaming services is almost as old as the streaming industry itself. Netflix has recently made headlines for taking steps to try and curtail the number of users who do so, and now it’s getting some help from the U.K. government. New piracy guidance from the U.K. suggests that anyone who shares a Netflix password could be in breach of copyright laws, and therefore subject to criminal prosecution.


The story was first reported by TorrentFreak, which announced that the U.K.’s Intellectual Property Office has issued update piracy guidance that now insists “password sharing on streaming services”, which includes Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, could legally be deemed as an act that “breaks copyright law”.

After being asked to clarify on the legality of password sharing, the IPO said in a statement that 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”.

It went on to say that “these provisions may include breach of contractual terms, fraud or secondary copyright infringement, depending on the circumstances.”

What this all means is that anyone who uses a friend or family member’s Netflix password to watch the service could find themselves being prosecuted for fraud or breaching copyright laws.

That said, the likelihood of actually being prosecuted for doing so seems slim. In the U.K., there’s a relatively low bar for what constitutes an act of fraud. The 2006 Fraud Act does indeed state that the use of “services of a members’ club without paying and without being a member” is an act of fraud. The same goes for using “chargeable data or software over the internet without paying.” However, it’s also true that these kinds of offenses are so commonplace that they’re almost trivial. Sharing someone else’s copyrighted image on social media, for example, also falls under the same class of offense. As such, it hardly seems likely that either the police or the Crown Prosecution Service would prioritize going after such criminals.

Added to that, if Netflix did start making a point of trying to prosecute password sharers, it would almost certainly have a negative impact on the company's reputation, given that it once appeared to actually encourage the practice.

It’s for these reasons that we’re confident that password sharing isn’t likely to land anyone in jail soon. However, the British government’s official position on the matter may at least serve as encouragement for Netflix as it proceeds with its plan to introduce account surcharges to password sharers next year.

Should Netflix’s action result in a substantial enough revenue boost, we’ll likely see Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and other services follow up with their own account sharing surcharges.