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Tennessee outlaws sharing passwords to Hulu, Netflix, Rhapsody and other sites

Bill Haslam

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill into law Thursday that would make it a crime to share passwords for subscription-based online streaming sites like Hulu, Netflix, Rdio and Rhapsody.

If convicted, someone who watched or listened to $500 or less of entertainment would be sentenced to a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,500. Chronic abusers would get popped with a felony and suffer harsher fates.

The law doesn't mean that you're committing a crime if you allow your spouse or family member to view a movie on Netflix under your own roof, Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), the bill’s House sponsor explained.

"What becomes not legal is if you send your user name and password to all your friends so they can get free subscriptions," McCormick told the Associated Press.

Jared Newman of PC World writes that the law is unnecessary and contrary to the inherent nature of Web-based streaming sites. He also feels the law, which is a first in the nation, would be difficult to enforce.

"Subscription services are meant to be accessed from lots of places," Newman argues. "Between computers, smartphones and tablets I already access the streaming music service MOG from six devices, and that number could balloon to dozens in the years ahead. Enforcing the law against consumers may be impossible because normal usage permits access on lots of devices."

Netflix, one of the larger companies that would stand to benefit from such a law seems to agree with Newman that the measure is unnecessary.

"Netflix applauds any efforts to stave off video piracy.  However, Netflix already has provisions in its Terms of Use that restrict passwords to the member’s household," the company said in reference to the Tennessee bill, according to Tom Cheredar of MediaBeat.

The Republican governor and the Tennessee lawmakers appear to be primarily protecting the interests of the music industry, which has a big presence in Nashville with the likes of Sony, BMI, Warner Music Group and EMI, and could be damaged by the illegal streaming of music, Cheredar speculates. However, he says they are targeting the wrong side.

"The state legislation seems to ignore the notion that the burden of preventing account sharing should be the responsibility of the streaming service and instead gives those companies more of an incentive to police the service for wrong doing. That approach is similar to the strategy most commonly used by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)," Cheredar wrote.


Rdio updates its mobile app, takes a great leap forward

YouTube counting on former Netflix exec to help it turn a profit

Netflix chief Reed Hastings extols the virtues of writing big checks in Hollywood

-- Tony Pierce

Photo: Gov. Bill Haslam listens to a reporter's question after a tour of the Tennessee Technology Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Credit: Erik Schelzig / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (8)

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This law is so dumb even Netflix thinks it's pointless. Not to mention this will be impossible to enforce or track.

wow ladies and gentlemen. our tax dollars hard at work.

I live between my mom and dad and stay at friends houses all the time and use my Netflix account all over the place. What happens when im smacked with a big false police charge? A felony for sharing a subscription thats less that 10 bucks a month. That seems highly unorthodox. But than again, most laws are these days. We now live in a time where haters are free to picket funerals and you get jail time for sharing Netflix. I can't wait to move to Canada.

Yet another law that only shows the paranoia of corporations and how lawmakers are only out for corporate interest. There is no harm in sharing, Plain and simple. It used to be done by giving your records to friends, and every media format has played a role. NBC doesn't know if it's me or my friend watching The office on my Xbox. If he comes over to watch with me, I dont pay any more than I do for just me. I'm glad netflix isn't promoting this bill, they seem to have some common sense. The new, controlling nature of protection for copyright doesn't make any sense, at even a basic level. Stealing for profit is wrong, but distribution of material can not hurt anyone. Furthermore, the difference between friends and family is a very thin line. What if a distant cousin lives with me? Or, in my case, My dorm has my xbox. I pay for netflix. Do we count as a family? Not legally. But I see no harm. what if a family has 9 people in it, all watching netflix on one account, all different tastes and ages. The law makes little logical sense.

see, that's why I like xfinity. when a person crashes at my house, they can turn on my tv and watch what they want.

Here's how it really happens.... You give buddy NetFlix passwords. Things are cool for a while. Then increasingly over time you keep stepping over each other because both of you are trying to use the same account. You call buddy and say, "Hey, buddy, if you love NetFlix so much, time to get you're own acccount!"

In other words, you've created a NetFlix customer. The people behind this law are COMPLETE IDIOTS.


PAYING NetFlix customer with two accounts!

Republican? You Betcha!

Seriously? I agree with the above... no way to really enforce it. They can try to track with cookies I'm sure, but really? How about writing better bills to control kiddie porn


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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