Is sharing your Netflix password legal?

HOUSTON – Just about every television junkie uses a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu, but not everyone pays for their own account.

According to Consumer Reports, 46 percent of Americans with streaming media accounts admit to sharing logins with people living outside their homes. The question is whether that could mean legal trouble.

Consumer Reports sifted through the terms of service for streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and HBO Go. They found Netflix allows users to stream up to four shows at once, and actually encourages the behavior by allowing profiles for each person who watches. The rules are worded so permissively, it's hard to imagine the company objecting to account sharing.

Amazon Prime allows subscribers to stream two shows at the same time, so they expect two people could be watching at once. And the terms of service don't explicitly limit streaming to people in the same household.

HBO Go, on the other hand, specifically states that users have to be in the same household to use the service. Hulu Plus also appears to try and cut down on account sharing. It only offers one stream at a time, which makes it difficult to share, especially for the person paying for it.

As for the consequences of violating the terms and service, it's tricky. There isn't really a precedent, but experts believe it has the potential to violate federal criminal laws. Consumer Reports spoke with attorneys, though, who said the cost to pursue any kind of action would be too much compared to the low price of the service.

About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.