(by Sheila Burke and Lucas L. Johnson II, Tennessean.com) – State lawmakers in country music’s capital have passed a groundbreaking measure that would make it a crime to use a friend’s login – even with permission – to listen to songs or watch movies from services such as Netflix and Rhapsody.

The bill, which has been signed by Gov. Bill Haslam and takes effect July 1, was pushed by recording industry officials to try to stop the loss of billions of dollars to illegal music sharing. They hope other states will follow.

The legislation was aimed at hackers and thieves who sell passwords in bulk, but its sponsors acknowledge it could be employed against people who use a friend’s or relative’s subscription.

While those who share their subscriptions with a spouse or other family members under the same roof almost certainly have nothing to fear, blatant offenders – say, college students who give their logins to everyone on their dormitory floor – could get in trouble.

“What becomes not legal is if you send your username and password to all your friends so they can get free subscriptions,” said the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Gerald McCormick.

Under the measure, download services that believe they are getting ripped off can go to law enforcement authorities and press charges.

The bill expands an existing law used to prosecute people who steal cable television or leave restaurants without paying for their meals. It adds “entertainment subscription service” to the list of services protected by the law.

Tennessee would become the first state to update its theft-of-cable laws for the 21st century and address the new trend toward Internet delivery of entertainment, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

“I think it’s stupid,” college student Josh Merbitz said of the law. The 20-year-old music education major at Middle Tennessee State University said he watches Netflix movies online using the password of his friend’s father, with the father’s permission.

Stealing $500 or less of entertainment would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,500. Theft with a higher price tag would be a felony, with heavier penalties. …..

The recording industry loses money when users share accounts for music services instead of paying separately.

Mitch Glazier, executive vice president of public policy for the RIAA, said the bill is a necessary protective measure as digital technology evolves. The music industry has seen its domestic revenue plunge by more than half in 10 years, from $15 billion to $7 billion, he said.

Bill Ramsey, a Nashville lawyer who practices entertainment law and criminal defense, said that he doubts the law would be used to ban people in the same household from sharing subscriptions and that small-scale violations involving a few people would, in any case, be difficult to detect. But “when you start going north of 10 people, a prosecutor might look and say, ‘Hey, you knew it was stealing,’ ” Ramsey said.

Music industry officials said they usually catch people who steal and resell logins in large quantities because they advertise.

Among the measure’s critics is public defender David Doyle. He said an “entertainment subscription” could be interpreted to mean a magazine subscription or a health club membership.

Kelly Kruger, an aerospace major at MTSU, said she likes to watch Netflix movies online in her dorm by logging in with her mother’s account information. Kruger said she hands out the login information to friends.

Even with a law against it, “I think people will keep doing it, like illegal downloading,” Kruger said.

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The Tennessean. Visit the website at Tennessean.com.


1. a) Describe the entertainment sharing law that Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam just signed into law.
b) When does the law take effect?

2. Who pushed for the law to be passed? Why?

3. What type of people does the law intend to target? (see paragraphs 3 and 14)

4. Against whom is the law not intended to be used?

5. Why are critics of the law (like public defender David Doyle) opposed to the law?

6. The following are some reader responses to the article: With whom do you agree? Explain your answers.

SUPPORT THE LAW:  Mr. Merbitz [who is quoted in para. 10] of all people, hoping to enter the music industry, should understand the rights and protection needs for artists. He is stealing, plain and simply being a thief, when he uses the password of another person to obtain the intellectual or artistic properties of the publisher. Shame on him and shame on TSU for not having made this a clear paradigm within its student body and all students entering the media industry. Another spoiled child of mind preparing to enter our economy.

OPPOSE THE LAW:  I don’t see a need for this bill. My understanding is that a person or persons can only log on from one computer at a time. If your friend or family member is using Rhapsody, then you can’t use it. How is that different from lending a CD or DVD to someone? I’m sure that the entertainment industry would love to make that illegal, too. But I challenge the assumption that criminalizing sharing will necessarily lead more people to buy the product. People who can afford these services buy them. Others can’t afford them. The bottom line is that anything that can be seen or heard can be recorded and shared. Masses of people, especially young people, WILL do this, legal or not. Do we really want to criminalize this behavior and brand an entire generation of kids as criminals to please the entertainment industry?

OPPOSE THE LAW:  Where do you draw the line? Everybody has picked up and read a discarded newspaper that they didn’t pay for. Doctor’s offices put out magazines for the patrons to read in a waiting room that they didn’t pay for. Public libraries lend books to members who did not pay for them. My neighbor borrowed a tool that he didn’t pay Sears for. If I loan something to a friend that is my business. Companies who offer unlimited downloads get what they asked for.

SUPPORT THE LAW: Good grief. Netflix is cheap. Buy your own subscription and value your own honesty more than you value entertainment.

OPPOSE THE LAW:  Brilliant. The multi millionaires at Netflix and other media rackets have now gotten the people of TN to pay to investigate and prosecute people to protect their profits The new law will probably come with an expensive bureaucracy as well.

SUPPORT THE LAW:  Wow. After reading some of the previous comments- especially the ridiculous justifications of this type of action- I felt compelled to weigh in with my two cents. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

First, it should be noted that this bill does not create an entirely new law. Rather, it updates existing law to be applicable for the 21st century. Occasionally laws need to be updated to remain relative.

Secondly, both Rhapsody and Netflix have language in their end-user agreements that make it clear that this type of abuse is a violation of their services. If you are to share your login information, you are in violation of the agreement anyways. This law simply strengthens their course of action in cases of severe abuse.

The price points for Rhapsody and Netflix are extremely low and I imagine that they are so because they are set on a one user per account basis. Sharing a password with multiple people that can be used at multiple times for multiple purposes is not the same as letting someone ‘borrow’ a bicycle, or even a DVD that was rented.

If someone uses the service repeatedly, it is obvious that they have found value in it. Thus, they should pay the subscription fee. Period.

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