by Dan Gibson
In Tennessee, if you share your Netflix password with someone, you could face a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. While it makes sense that if someone is using the service, they should probably pay for it, that's sort of an ominously abusive penalty for letting your neighbor watch an episode of Dexter on his laptop. Yes, the lawmakers who passed the bill and the industry that wrote it say that they're intending to go after people sharing or selling passwords en masse - but the bill seems to allow prosecution of well-meaning individuals, so what's to keep that for happening other than the assurance of a few individuals?
State lawmakers in country music's capital have passed a groundbreaking measure that would make it a crime to use a friend's login — even with permission — to listen to songs or watch movies from services such as Netflix or Rhapsody.
The bill, which has been signed by the governor, was pushed by recording industry officials to try to stop the loss of billions of dollars to illegal music sharing. They hope other states will follow.
The legislation was aimed at hackers and thieves who sell passwords in bulk, but its sponsors acknowledge it could be employed against people who use a friend's or relative's subscription.
Stealing $500 or less of entertainment would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500. Theft with a higher price tag would be a felony, with heavier penalties.
The recording industry, a major taxpayer in Tennessee, loses money when users share accounts for music services instead of paying separately.
Bill Ramsey, a Nashville lawyer who practices both entertainment law and criminal defense, said that he doubts the law would be used to ban people in the same household from sharing subscriptions, and that small-scale violations involving a few people would, in any case, be difficult to detect. But "when you start going north of 10 people, a prosecutor might look and say, `Hey, you knew it was stealing,'" Ramsey said.
Music industry officials said they usually catch people who steal and resell logins in large quantities because they advertise.
Among the measure's critics is public defender David Doyle, who said the wording is too vague and overly broad. He said an "entertainment subscription" could be interpreted to mean a magazine subscription or a health club membership.