You Should Never Share Your Netflix Password In This State. Here's Why

Perhaps one of the most ubiquitous forms of home entertainment for most people — especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 — is online streaming. These days, it seems like just about everyone has an account for a streaming service (or two, or more). To be fair, it's easy to see why. Crowding around a TV or computer with friends or family to watch the latest must-see show or movie, surrounded by all the creature comforts you desire, is a fairly attractive premise. But surprisingly, this socially permissible, generally lowkey way to pass the time can be, in some places, somewhat controversial — that is, in a technical legal sense. Or at least it can be in one place specifically: Tennessee. 

Yes, you read that correctly. In the state of Tennessee, it's technically illegal to share your user login password for your streaming service of choice with anyone outside your household — a law that was codified in 2011, as media outlets like Business Insider reported at the time. This means that the simple act of giving a friend your password could result in legal action if you're caught.

Naturally, this law poses a problem for netizens who reside in Tennessee, given the popularity of streaming is now, more than ever, still going strong and growing even more profitable by the day, per The Hollywood Reporter. But how did this law pass in the first place? And was there any legal precedent for it?

Tennessee's bill was meant to combat password theft

Like many states, Tennessee has a few laws on its books that can only be described as odd. (For an example of one of Tennessee's weirdest laws, look no further than this: It's illegal to sell glue to anyone under the age of 21.) In that sense, the state's stance on password sharing very much continues in that tradition. 

The law itself was the brainchild of former GOP Representative Gerald McCormick, who sponsored the password login bill back in 2011. McCormick, who spoke with the Associated Press (via The Hollywood Reporter) after the bill was passed into law, told the newspaper that the bill was not meant to target family members who share passwords with other members of their household — instead, it was meant to protect against password theft and from bad actors making money off of selling them. He also made it clear, however, that there was little leeway for Tennessee residents on the matter. "What becomes not legal is if you send your user name and password to all your friends so they can get free subscriptions," McCormick said at the time.

Per AP's report, the penalty for breaking Tennessee's streaming service login password law — for password thieves or generous friends alike — was, and still is, incurring a hefty fine of up to $2,500, along with potential felony charges. But considering that sharing user passwords to your Netflix account is legal pretty much everywhere, it seems a little extreme, no? 

The RIAA lobbied for the bill in order to curb online piracy

The Tennessee login law may seem strange, but it was actually lobbied for by some major industry players — specifically, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). According to Tech Dirt, U.S. lobbyist and attorney Mitch Glazier, who spoke on behalf of the RIAA, was apparently in full favor of the bill, citing concerns over piracy and lost revenue in the industry. That might explain why the RIAA was so adamant about helping the bill pass.

As the Associated Press (via Billboard) reported in 2011, Tennessee's governor at the time, Bill Haslam, also strongly advocated additional measures in stopping piracy online. "I don't know enough about that legislation, but if it's combating that issue, I would be in favor of it," Haslam told the outlet. Notably, Tennessee's recording industry is also a major source of taxation for the state, which means that a reason the bill might have gained so much traction with state legislators could have had a lot to do with protecting tax revenue. Either way, just remember: If you live in Tennesse, think twice before you share your Netflix password with your buddy for movie night.