News Ticker

When it comes to media, it’s often OK to share

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 12.50.11 PM

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

Parents often tell their kids to “share,” but sharing movies, music and other media isn’t always legal or ethical. The good news is that many services do allow you to share, at least with members of your “family” or “household.”

While there are no laws against sharing a peanut butter sandwich, the state of Tennessee does have a law against sharing passwords and allowing others to access your Netflix, HBO Go or other streaming media accounts. Some worry that the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act could be interpreted to criminalize sharing usernames and passwords “without authorization.”

Both the law — and companies’ rules regarding password sharing — are sometimes a bit vague, but common sense dictates that a single subscription doesn’t cover an entire dorm or all your Facebook friends.

There are, however, some services that actually encourage sharing with a “household” or “family,” sometimes at a fee that’s a bit higher than an individual subscription.

The reason I put “household” and “family” in quotes is because company rules often don’t define those terms. Is a household just the people living in the same dwelling? Or does it include kids away at college? What about adult kids who live nearby? I know several young people who have their own apartments but still use their parents’ home as their official address on their drivers’ license and for voting. It’s not clear to me whether they also qualify as members of their parents’ household.

And some services use the term “family,” which is increasingly vague. Spouses and young children are obviously members of the same family but what about adult kids, cousins or a partner who has his or her own apartment but spends several days a week living with you?

So, without my giving anyone legal or moral authority on how to interpret the words household or family, let me tell you some deals that are out there that specifically allow you to share access to your media with those who qualify.

Google just announced its Family Library, which it is rolling out in the U.S. and a handful of other countries. In a blog post, Google describes it as “a way for up to six family members to share purchases on Google Play.” The post said that “when you buy an eligible app, game, movie, TV show, or book in the Play Store, you can now share it with your family — across devices — with no additional sign-up fee.”

There are some limitations, “Certain items, including purchased music, movie rentals, and book rentals, aren’t eligible for Family Library.” Google also has a $14.99 a month Family Plan for Google Play music, which gives up to six family members streaming access to about 35 million songs as well as the right to upload as many as 50,000 songs from your own computer to stream from any compatible device. Compared to $9.99 each charges for a single account, these are great deals, especially for large families.

Participants take the escalator following the opening address at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference held at Moscone West in San Francisco on Monday,
Participants take the escalator following the opening address at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference held at Moscone West in San Francisco on Monday, June 10, 2013. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group Archives)
Family members, according to Google’s rules, must “be 13 years of age or older, have a Google account, live in the same country as the family manager and not be part of another family group.” There is nothing that says that they must live in the same household, nor does it define “family.”

When it comes to your own password, Google Play terms of service do specify that “You must keep your user details secure and must not share them with anyone else.”

Apple Music and Spotify have similar plans. Apple is equally vague but Spotify’s website says that “All members must reside at the same address.” But it’s in tiny dark purple text against a black background that’s nearly impossible to read, which makes me question whether they really mean it.

For an extra $2 a month Netflix lets you watch on two screens at a time or four screen for an extra $4. But that sign-up page doesn’t say where the screens must be located or who can watch them. The company offers up to five user profiles.

Netflix CEO Reid Hastings was quoted as saying “We usually like to think that a husband and wife can share an account and that that’s perfectly appropriate and acceptable. But, “If you mean, ‘Hey, I got my password from my boyfriend’s uncle,’ then that’s not what we would consider appropriate.” He later said that password sharing “really hasn’t been a problem.”

Amazon Prime members can share digital content and other benefits with one adult and up to four children in the household. You have to specify children’s ages and are limited to those born in 1996 or later.

If you’re a Comcast cable subscriber you can specify up to six additional users for online streaming of your authorized content, including premium channels like HBO. Each person gets their own log-in credentials.

So, like your kids’ peanut butter sandwich, sharing is sometimes OK. But there are limits.