Sharing TV streaming passwords is illegal, says UK copyright watchdog

Intellectual Property Office says people using services such as Netflix without paying could face prosecution

Millions of UK viewers are breaking the law by sharing their passwords for services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, according to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

The IPO, which has published the new guidance in conjunction with the Facebook and Instagram owner Meta, said password sharing breaks copyright laws.

“Piracy is a major issue for the entertainment and creative industries,” the IPO said. “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 IPO had originally explicitly used the phrase “password sharing on streaming services” in its guidance published on Monday, but subsequently changed the phrase to “accessing … without paying a subscription”.

Netflix estimates that more than 100m households access its services for free globally via password sharing, including as many as 4 million subscribers in the UK, which it has tolerated despite being in breach of its terms and conditions.

Earlier this year the company announced plans to crack down on the practice by offering subscribers the option to add extra “sub-accounts” or “extra members” for a small extra monthly fee.

This plan, which Netflix is introducing as one of a number of moves to boost revenues as the global streaming boom grinds to a halt, is expected to be introduced in Britain next year.

The IPO said the practice of password sharing was a criminal and civil offence and those doing it could theoretically face prosecution.

“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,” an IPO spokesperson said.

“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.”

Pay TV operators such as Sky have been aggressive in cracking down on businesses and consumers taking illegal feeds of entertainment and sports programming by taking legal action, but it is not a route that streaming companies have shown an inclination to go down.


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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