Digital Legal Top Stories

US state makes password sharing illegal

By | Published on Friday 3 June 2011


Tennessee has passed a new state law which makes it illegal to share your passwords for content services like Napster or Rhapsody with other people.

While there are technical solutions that can ensure that only one person accesses an online content service via any one account at any one time, technology can’t stop people sharing user accounts if they tap into the shared service at different times. The aim of Senate Bill 1659 is to discourage people from letting their friends stream music from Napster or watch a movie via Netflix using their account logins, by making such activity not only against the terms of said services, but also a criminal offence.

The new law was well supported in the Tennessee legislator, very possibly because of some nifty lobbying on the part of the Nashville music business which is, of course, within that state.

The Recording Industry Association Of America, which would probably like to see a similar law introduced at a federal level, told reporters: “As the music industry continues its transition from selling CDs to providing fans convenient access to a breadth of legal music online, laws that provide effective enforcement against new and developing forms of content theft are essential to the health of our business”.

Of course, policing the new law will be challenging – how do you know passwords have been shared, what’s to stop an accused password sharer of claiming their account must have been hacked, and surely the law couldn’t realistically target co-habitees who share their content services with their housemates. Though it’s possible the record industry really wants the new law so to target message boards and suchlike which offer up passwords to different websites and content services.