Sharing streaming passwords is now illegal, or is it?

20 December 2022 13:47   By Lyndsey Burton

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and Meta yesterday released guidance stating password sharing on streaming apps breaks copyright law, yet it's since been removed.

Yesterday, guidance was published to help minimise piracy through social media and streaming services, as well as counterfeit goods sold over social media.

While the guidance primarily focuses on accessing content through illegitimate streaming devices or apps, as well as fake goods, media coverage focused on the mention of "password sharing on streaming services [...] all break copyright law".

The criminality of password sharing was further explained by the IPO to TorrentFreak in their coverage. Yet since yesterday, the excerpt mentioning password sharing has been edited to remove it.

netflix on tv
Credit: pixinoo/

Password sharing

In 2022, Netflix estimated more than 100 million households were accessing its services for free via password sharing, despite it being in breach of its terms of use.

Netflix terms of use clearly states, "The Netflix service and any content accessed through the service are for your personal and non-commercial use only and may not be shared with individuals beyond your household."

Yet, Netflix always allowed additional profiles to be added to an account, an individual avatar distinguished different users with their own watch lists and personalised recommendations.

However, in October 2022, Netflix announced it would start charging extra for these additional profiles, renaming them as sub-accounts and adding a fee of around $3 in the original trial countries of Chile, Costa Rica and Peru.

Netflix has also confirmed the "Extra Members" scheme will be coming to the UK in early 2023 and will apply to users outside of a member's household. We're assuming they'll use some form of IP detection to distinguish and block users from outside of a main member's home.

It's not yet been announced how much Extra Members will cost, but we'd assumed it would be less than the new Basic with ads plan, costing £4.99 per month, launched in October 2022.

Who is an 'Extra Member' is a difficult determination to make. The main method to distinguish users by IPs could easily block a genuine account holder from watching away from home, as much as prevent account sharing with a separate household.

Piracy implications

However, the seemingly unannounced changes made by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) since yesterday, throw into question just where password sharing falls in terms of copyright law and infringement.

Initially, the IPO published the following statement:

Piracy is a major issue for the entertainment and creative industries. Pasting internet images into your social media, password sharing on streaming services and accessing the latest films, tv series or live sports events through kodi boxes, fire sticks or Apps without paying a subscription all break copyright law. Not only are you breaking the law but stopping someone earning a living from their hard work.

An IPO spokesperson confirmed to TorrentFreak, "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."

Edit (21/12/22): having spoken to the IPO now ourselves, a spokesperson additionally added, "Where these provisions are provided in civil law, it would be up to the service provider to take action through the courts if required."

While the original version of the IPO guidance is currently still accessible on Google's cache of the page (at the time of writing), the text now reads:

Piracy is a major issue for the entertainment and creative industries. 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 has then, seemingly removed any mention of password sharing from its new guidance, without issuing any further announcement or comment on the removal.

But why?

On questioning by TorrentFreak, they clearly came down hard on password sharing being seen as a criminal activity, yet following the media coverage that's focused so vociferously on 'password sharing is illegal', are perhaps now back-tracking just a little bit.

With the upcoming paid password sharing feature from Netflix coming in early 2023, it could simply be a case of not wanting bad PR upsetting potential new subscribers.

Edit (21/12/22): a spokesperson from the IPO confirmed the reason the section was edited, "as I'm sure you know, we are always reviewing our content on to ensure it's clear. The law and our guidance remains the same, but we have worked to provide more clarity in the paragraph appearing on the landing page of"


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