Sharing a password for a streaming service such as Netflix could land you in hot water in the U.K.
The country’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) issued guidance on December 19 that said “accessing … apps without paying a subscription is an infringement of copyright and you may be committing a crime.”
The IPO made the statement in an announcement about its joint campaign with Meta—formerly known as Facebook—to give guidance to people to avoid pirated and counterfeit goods online.
“Piracy is a major issue for the entertainment and creative industries,” it wrote on its website.
“Pasting internet images into your social media without permission, or accessing films, tv series or live sports events through Kodi boxes, hacked Fire Sticks or apps without paying a subscription is an infringement of copyright and you may be committing a crime.”
The law applies to Netflix password sharing, but also other streaming services, including Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Apple TV+.
But despite its recently published guidance, a spokeswoman the IPO told Newsweek “copyright law remains unchanged,” and 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.”
“These provisions may include breach of contractual terms, fraud or secondary copyright infringement depending on the circumstances. Where these provisions are provided in civil law, it would be up to the service provider to take action through the courts if required,” the IPO spokeswoman said.
In the case of Netflix, it is the responsibility of “the member who created the Netflix account and whose payment method is charged” for any activity that occurs through the account.
“To maintain control over the account and to prevent anyone from accessing the account, the account owner should maintain control over the Netflix ready devices… and not reveal the password or details of the payment method associated with the account to anyone,” the Terms of Service read.
“We can terminate your account or place your account on hold in order to protect you, Netflix or our partners from identity theft or other fraudulent activity.”
Newsweek contacted Netflix for comment, but it declined to reply and pointed out its moves earlier this year to take a tougher stance on password sharers.
The company introduced new fees for people sharing accounts but who did not live in the same household, as it fights a decline in subscribers.
Netflix claimed of the 222 million households around the world with subscriptions, there were “100 million additional households” getting access to the service through password sharing.
It argued the practice also made it more difficult for the company to expand its service and productions into new markets. Netflix does offer shared accounts with separate profiles and multiple streams in its plans, but they are only applicable to people living under the same roof.
“While these have been hugely popular, they have also created some confusion about when and how Netflix can be shared. As a result, accounts are being shared between households – impacting our ability to invest in great new TV and films for our members,” Netflix said in a March statement.
So, the company introduced options for members on standard and premium plans to add sub accounts for up to two people they don’t live with. It also offered the option of transferring a profile to a new account or an extra member sub account so they don’t lose their personal data such as viewing history and recommended programs.
According to the IPO, people who “password share” are also opening themselves to criminal charges for breaching “secondary copyright infringement.”
In U.K. law, primary copyright infringement refers to the illegal reproduction of intellectual property, but the secondary kind requires knowledge of infringement, such as knowingly sharing or using someone’s Netflix password.
The Crown Prosecution Service in the U.K states that “deliberate infringement of copyright may be a criminal offence,” but admitted the odds of it pursuing prosecution were low.
It explained how many of the copyright-based industries have created their own coalitions, which “are actively involved in enforcement work, often in collaboration with the police or trading standards departments.”
“In some cases these organizations undertake criminal prosecutions in their own right,” the CPS added on its website.
One such group is the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), which created a working group in 2019 to combat the rise of unauthorized password sharing.
“The digital era has led to an explosion of new streaming platforms and a golden age in television,” said Charles Rivkin, Chairman of the Motion Picture Association, and also ACE in 2019.
“But its openness has also brought challenges like piracy and unauthorized access that compromise the intellectual property that supports content creators and the economic viability of their work.”
Newsweek also contacted the CPS for clarification on what punishments a person could face for password sharing, but did not receive a reply.