Password sharing is now illegal in Tennessee


If you live in Tennessee and like showing people cool stuff using Netflix, Hulu Plus, Rhapsody, or anything other subscription-based streaming service, it may be time to move. On May 18th, a new bill was passed by the Tennessee state senate which has turned password sharing into a punishable offense. How punishable? At the very least some heavy fines with the potential for actual jail time. I admit up front that I understand why this law exists, but I think its reach is too broad and it has unnerving implications. Using JOURNALISM, I found out what the Tennessee General Assembly had to say about the bill, because cold, hard, objective facts are the only things you will find here on Flixist. Hit the jump to see what your punishment will be if you stream your long distance partner your favorite films in HD.

[Via Tennessee General Assembly]

The most important information can be distilled into this:

“Services includes… entertainment subscription services” and “Theft of property or services is: (1) A Class A misdemeanor if the value of the property or services obtained is $500 or less.”

In its original incarnation, the bill also stipulated that a second offense of the “theft of entertainment subscription services” would result in a Class E felony. Fortunately, an amendment removed that piece of legislation, but a class A misdemeanor is still a pretty heavy punishment. According to My Tennessee Defense Lawyer, such crimes are “punishable by less than one year in jail and fines up to $2,500.”

The problem is this: the bill is clearly designed for large groups who sell passwords and otherwise screw with the system, but the language is too vague. If my family owns a Netflix subscription and I go away for a while, I see no harm in using the Instant Play feature on their account. Now, perhaps the legislature wouldn’t go after me for such an “offense,” but the fact that they could is a bit frightening. The bill needs to be more specific, because I don’t believe that the above scenario should count as theft. The even more important question comes from the actual tracking of such sharing. Are they constantly logging IP addresses and comparing them to a database of other previously used IP addresses? Is there something more insidious going on? What about someone with multiple IP addresses? If I use a VPN, then my IP address is entirely variable, and could change at any moment. This is fantastic for me, but what if I am using my own Netflix subscription and the legislature tries to come down on me for sharing something that is never leaving my computer?

The internet does not function like the real world, and laws must be written with that understanding. This new stipulation is part of a much broader bill with good, real-world intentions. I am perfectly okay with that, In fact, I am glad that Tennessee has passed laws outlawing thievery, but legislature can’t simply add digital items and concepts to existing laws for real-world ones. New technology is much too complicated for that. There are major problems with this bill as it now stands, and this new stipulation needs to be revoked in favor of a new bill that addresses the digital concerns properly. 

As of right now, the bill and its new stipulation don’t affect me, and they probably don’t affect many of you, but this is part of an ongoing issue caused by a lack of understanding of new technology and is an alarming precedent. I certainly hope it never leaves Tennessee, at least not in its current form.

[Via Tennessee Senate] [Via My Tennessee Defense Lawyer]