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Will Sharing Netflix Land You in Jail?

Netflix Jail.jpgOver the past week, sharing, it seems, is daring - the long arm of the law to come and arrest you. Thankfully, all you Netflix users can rest easy - you're not going to the slammer anytime soon. In the recent case of The United States vs. David Nosal, one man's password-stealing days are over. The matter has been an ongoing court battle after Nosal was caught obtaining unauthorized access to the proprietary materials of his former employers, Korn Ferry International. With Nosal's conviction, Americans have been worrying that sharing their video streaming accounts would make them an actual character in their favorite prison show.

While Nosal had left Korn Ferry in 2004 to begin his own firm, he used a former colleague's passwords to access inside information to further his own business. Despite being charged in 2008 and convicted in 2013 for conspiracy, theft of trade secrets, and three computer fraud counts, a recent appellate court ruling has confirmed that his unsanctioned access to the passwords did in fact violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The CFAA was passed in 1986 as a federal anti-hacking statue forbidding unauthorized access to computers and networks. This legislation has been at the center reform efforts due to the ambiguity of authorization and computer accessibility. Because of the all-pervasive expansion of the technology industry, prosecution of computer crimes has become prevalent for everyone from high-profile hackers to smalltime offenders who warrant only a misdemeanor charge.

While this the Nosal case did not involve streaming websites or networks, the implications for digital reform have caused no small amount of panic. In the majority opinion written by Judge Reinhardt, the summary effectively states that use of any computers with internet access - but without lawful permission - could therefore be criminalized. From procrastinating students to late -night binge watchers, are ordinary Americans been transformed into federal criminals in a blink of an eye?

The American people may enjoy seeing Frank Underwood in jail, but they themselves are not eager to make an extended visit in person. Despite calls for reform of the CFAA and the recent rulings on Nosal's case, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is not worried the controversy over password sharing; it simply hasn't deterred people from signing up. Even HBO Chairman and Chief Executive Richard Piepler thought that password sharing, while not encouraged, was not a big enough problem to catch his network's attention. While people may want to start logging out of their third cousin's account that's registered three states over, it looks like the general public is safe from the police knocking on the front door - for now.

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