You could go to jail for a year for sharing HBO Go passwords
June 2, 2013 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Jail for sharing HBO Go passwords New York Times tech journalist Jenna Wortham made a confession that could be used to send her to prison for a year or more. What was the startling criminal admission? She uses someone else’s password to sign into the cable-subscriber-only HBO Go app to watch ‘Game of Thrones.’
posted by sona (88 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just so we're clear, this is because the law is completely insane, and written by computer illiterates on behalf of giant corporations.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:00 AM on June 2, 2013 [32 favorites]


Syrio: What do we say to the God of death.
Arya: Not today.
Syrio: Go.
posted by Fizz at 9:00 AM on June 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


The law is nuts, but the gatekeepers' methods are nutsier. When people are willing to pay for a service versus, you know, NOT willing to pay for a service, how is "shut up and take my money" not a compelling argument?
posted by tzikeh at 9:07 AM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


You know how HBO could resolve this problem?

Open up HBO Go registration to people who don't want cable.

Seriously. I want to give HBO my money for shit like GoT. But can I sign up for HBO Go? Newp. I have to put in my goddamn service provider (Comcast), then they have to check my account status (basic cable + 20mb/down Internet)... just find out I'm denied.

I don't want the super-tv Cable. I don't want to pay another $70 on my cable bill for channels I won't watch because I don't actually have a TV (if it ain't on Netflix or Hulu, I ain't watchin' it). I really just want to watch shows--and I want to watch them while my friends who DO have those HBO channels are too, so we can talk.

Unchain thyself, HBO. Until then, it's your goddamn fault for setting up this idiotic roadblock.
posted by qcubed at 9:10 AM on June 2, 2013 [88 favorites]


I thought that an outcome of the Lori Drew case was that simply violating a TOS agreement isn't itself a crime. Wasn't the distinguishing thing with Aaron Swartz and JSTOR that he physically went and fiddled with things in an IT closet on his campus?
posted by XMLicious at 9:11 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


how is "shut up and take my money" not a compelling argument?

When it doesn't fit "your business model".

Breaking the law and then standing there daring others to enforce is how laws get changed historically. Lets see if that is the path taken VS 'ooops' and then back peddling.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:13 AM on June 2, 2013


When people are willing to pay for a service versus, you know, NOT willing to pay for a service, how is "shut up and take my money" not a compelling argument?

From the article:

In other words, it isn’t financially viable for HBO to offer a cheaper, digital-only subscription, either sold separately or bundled to an Internet service. So, to a point, account sharing is allowed.


Most people would not be willing to pay enough to buy the unsubsidized price. Besides, you would probably also only watch GoT, and cancel the second the series was over for the season, unlike the regular monthly cash that cable viewers give.

The solution, I don't know. Mass piracy until the networks feel they have no choice and give in. Worked for music.

On preview, what rough ashlar said.
posted by zabuni at 9:15 AM on June 2, 2013


Well I'm paying for Comcast Internet plus local-channels-only and HBO a la carte for $15/mo extra. My total bill is about $50 which isn't that crazy considering it includes 35mbit interwebz. HBO Go is a pretty cool thing this way.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:15 AM on June 2, 2013


XMLicioius: I wouldn't be surprised if using someone else's credentials to log in runs afoul of laws designed to lock hackers up forever; "unauthorized use of computer system" sorts of things. They could probably slap on some cyberterrorism charges for good measure.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:15 AM on June 2, 2013


I'll admit that I don't really know all the economic ins and outs of how much revenue a given channel actually gets from some cable-subscribing sucker's $100/month. But I'll just bet that getting a free-standing HBO Go subscription that isn't tied to a cable bill would be one whole hell of a lot easier if HBO wasn't owned by Time Warner Cable.

As it stands, right now I pay for torrenting Game of Thrones by buying the Blu-Rays every year as they come out. If I could watch the show legally without paying for 1000 other channels that I will never watch, I'd be open to the idea.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:20 AM on June 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm reminded of when President George W Bush talked about listening to the Beatles on his iPod. At the time, there was no legal way to put a Beatles song on an iPod.

But look, HBO needs to charge money somehow. And they're kind of not dicks about it; HBO Go is more consumer friendly than most video services. It's a huge problem for their business that the physics of information makes it hard for them to enforce scarcity of their video service. The real danger is they've managed to criminalize what should be a civil dispute.
posted by Nelson at 9:21 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm confused, people are frequently doing this without getting cut off? There are any number of simple countermeasures - I'd be pretty surprised if HBO doesn't already keep tabs on the IP addresses accessing content, and at least flag accounts for review if they're being frequently used from e.g. different ISP netblocks, too many different machines/browsers, or concurrently from apparently different locations.
posted by blackberet at 9:23 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


XMLicioius: I wouldn't be surprised if using someone else's credentials to log in runs afoul of laws designed to lock hackers up forever; "unauthorized use of computer system" sorts of things.

Yes, but that's a different thing from simply violating a Terms of Service agreement, which is what the article is claiming makes the journalist's actions criminal. You could use someone else's credentials to log into a system where no TOS is involved at all and I would expect that to still be an issue under the CFAA.
posted by XMLicious at 9:25 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I pay for cable and HBO and I'm not allowed to watch HBO to Go on my Roku box on the exact same TV that I watch cable TV through. There's an HBO to Go channel but Comcast won't allow their subscribers to use it on the ROKU.
posted by octothorpe at 9:26 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Doleful Creature
Well I'm paying for Comcast Internet plus local-channels-only and HBO a la carte for $15/mo extra. My total bill is about $50 which isn't that crazy considering it includes 35mbit interwebz. HBO Go is a pretty cool thing this way.

Lucky you. I can't seem to get anything approaching that deal in my area. Minimum for that kind of speed in my area is $60. Add whatever ridiculous fees Comcast wants, and it starts blossoming.

And the a la carte HBO subscription? Not offered.

Seriously, the onus in on HBO to realize that there are people who would gladly throw them money if they dropped the whole, "must have cable subscription" bullshit.
posted by qcubed at 9:28 AM on June 2, 2013


The Rules of the Get Free Subscription Services Fight Club

1st Rule: Do not publish details as to how you Get Free Subscription Services with your club.
2nd Rule: Do not brag about how you Get Free Subscription Services on a worldwide news site with a subscription service.
3rd Rule: Just as a precaution, be sure to research the rules of various prison commissaries.
4th Rule: Get used to being described as an idiot.
posted by lampshade at 9:29 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am not a lawyer. That said: There absolutely was a legal way to listen to the Beatles on an iPod -- purchase a CD and rip the tracks. If you don't transfer the CD, you are space-shifting which was protected by the US Circuit Court of Appeals in RIAA v. Diamond Multimedia.

(I grow tired of the Bush-Beatles-iPod explanation. It doesn't work.)
posted by andreaazure at 9:29 AM on June 2, 2013 [28 favorites]


God I love watching people struggle with cable.

I cancelled my cable after a come to Jesus moment. Give me 500 channels, and for whatever reason, I end up watching Bravo, The People's Court and reruns of Cops all day. I was paying over $100/mo for that.

I'm going to assume there is no real privacy here so I'm not going to get into how else I get my entertainment. But suffice to say I'm watching really interesting shows and can't remember the last time I saw a commercial.

It's funny watching people pay through the nose for hi-tech, hampered services. Gone are the days of local newspapers and free waves. Anybody questioning HBO's motives for not going online-only has to ask themselves why none of the cable channels have gone online. In fact, you have channels like CBS and FOX threatening to go to the subscription model as well, due to what - the threat of free streaming television? Funny how 25 years ago that was the norm and now it is a corporate impossibility.
posted by phaedon at 9:29 AM on June 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


And now to be the contrarian again: Creators of digital works have the absolute right to dictate how those works are sold / licensed / accessed. Just as copyright is a law which is used to enforce creator's rights, so too are laws that allow the prohibition against sharing an account.

HBO is well within their rights to run their business in a way people don't like (assuming, of course, they aren't breaking the law). If you think HBO Go's setup is too expensive and to onerous, don't use it. We aren't talking about water or air or civil liberties... we are talking about a TV show about a fantasy novel. There is no basic human right to it.

Should people go to jail over this? Probably not. On the other hand, it only takes a case or two to bring this up to get the desired result.
posted by andreaazure at 9:36 AM on June 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


Should people go to jail over this? Definitely not. There is no probably.

What I don't understand at all - because I don't know how the financials work - is why it wouldn't be financially feasible for HBO and similar to offer shows on a subscription basis to anyone, regardless of their cable provider or lack of same. So, why?
posted by rtha at 9:48 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because right now that would piss off the cable partners who still represent the bulk of their revenue. HBO Go will definitely get there eventually, I think, but they're not going to stick their necks out on this one and burn their most profitable bridges prematurely.
posted by blackberet at 9:50 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Creators of digital works have the absolute right to dictate how those works are sold ... Should people go to jail over this? Probably not.

There are no absolute rights. Period.

And no one should have the right to enlist the criminal justice system to enforce civil contracts. That is what this thread is about - go look at the title! - not about whether people have the right to steal intellectual property etc.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:52 AM on June 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


There is no basic human right to it.

This is such a slick red herring to bring up. There is also no basic human right that says you need to throw someone in jail for torrenting. In other words, we're not talking about basic human rights at all.

The main problem remains that the market is only willing to offer services which are profitable, meanwhile technology has no such restraint. Never has the gap been so wide. Streaming television - totally possible, nowhere in sight.

As I said, a generation ago television was free. Now you pay for the privilege of heavily advertised, heavily recycled content, on top of that, more money for premium channels that don't have advertising, I mean, it's kind of hilarious.
posted by phaedon at 9:54 AM on June 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Should people go to jail over this? Probably not. On the other hand, it only takes a case or two to bring this up to get the desired result.

That's what the RIAA thought. And a couple people got their lives ruined, but in the end they broke, because it was too easy. And we had to wait until they invented easy enough legal methods (pandora and spotify) to get most people to switch, and torrenting still happens.

HBO's problem is that they get tons of kickbacks as a part of cable packages, and are a big reason people sign up for cable at all. There may be a significant number of people willing to pay for streaming HBO. But they won't be willing to pay enough to make up for pissing off the cable companies.
posted by Diablevert at 10:03 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


As I said, a generation ago television was free.

HBO isn't just television in that sense though. I love HBO on many levels, including the way their shows have made so many opportunities for older female actors.* Would they be able to do all that they do strictly with money people paid per show or even in the form of freestanding HBO Go subscriptions? That's a sincere question.

*Admittedly HBO doesn't seem as special now as it used to, with regard to casting, production values and other stuff. But still, most other cable stations do one or two of the things Showtime does; none of them do it all.
posted by BibiRose at 10:15 AM on June 2, 2013


It is probably worth noting that HBO didn't raise the stink about Wortham's admission and seems rather blase about the whole thing. I suspect the reason for this is that it is not HBO who cares about this so much as the cable providers, who want their contracts with HBO to guarantee exclusivity during the period when the showi s only supposed to be available to cable TV subscribers.

By offering HBO Go HBO is really dancing at the edge of their agreement not to make their content available to media which compete with cable TV, which is what the cable providers pay them for. (Later the cable providers might stop paying them and they might put out a DVD, passing into another phase of availability.) So HBO probably circumvented this contract problem by promising the cable providers that only their customers who would have access to the programming and DVR time-shifting anyway could also get it via the web service.
posted by localroger at 10:15 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


HBO is owned by Time Warner, who are not going to fuck around with their cable company's revenues to please cord-cutters.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:22 AM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


In other words, it isn’t financially viable for HBO to offer a cheaper, digital-only subscription, either sold separately or bundled to an Internet service. So, to a point, account sharing is allowed.

The above ignores recent statements from HBO's CEO suggesting HBO is at least considering offering HBO GO as part of broadband Internet packages. It's surprising neither of the two links in the post mentions the possibility, which got some press just a few weeks ago:

HBO CEO mulls teaming with broadband partners for HBO GO

(Reuters) - HBO could widen access to its HBO GO online streaming service by teaming up with broadband Internet providers for customers who do not subscribe to a cable TV service, according to HBO's Chief Executive Richard Plepler. "Right now we have the right model," Plepler told Reuters on Wednesday evening at the Season 3 premiere of HBO's hit TV show "Game of Thrones." "Maybe HBO GO, with our broadband partners, could evolve."

...HBO GO is available to subscribers of several pay TV companies that provide Internet service such as Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Verizon FiOS. Plepler said late Wednesday that HBO GO could be packaged with a monthly Internet service, in partnership with broadband providers, reducing the cost. Customers could pay $50 a month for their broadband Internet and an extra $10 or $15 for HBO to be packaged in with that service, for a total of $60 or $65 per month, Plepler explained.


That seems a fairly logical next step for a company that will increasingly be competing with original content from places like Netflix, YouTube and Amazon. HBO is still hesitant, but the possibility is on the table and should be part of any of these discussions:

This is a challenge to HBO, however it would be a risky step for the company to by-pass its traditional distribution partners, which provide HBO with lucrative subscription fees. There are billions of dollars generated from HBO's existing distribution network and to simply circumvent that would not make business sense, Plepler said in January..."Doesn't mean we are not mindful that the problem exists," he added.

There are issues yet to be worked out, I'm sure, but simply stating "it isn’t financially viable for HBO to offer a cheaper, digital-only subscription" doesn't seem completely accurate at this point.
posted by mediareport at 10:25 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


HBO is owned by Time Warner

And yet. AND YET. CAN I GET HBO GO ON TWC IN NYC? No I fucking cannot.

May they and 1,000 generations of their descendants be eternally infested with pubic lice.
posted by elizardbits at 10:32 AM on June 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


In the interest of adding some substance to this debate, here's a stock analyst's take on HBO's finances and growth prospects. At the mo, HBO has around 40 million subscribers and gets paid around $7.50 per subscriber by the cable companies who carry it.

No prob, you're thinking. I'd pay more than that for HBO. (How much more, though? Netflix is ten bucks a month, after all. And for the whole year? Or only for the part if the year your favourite show is on?) So say HBO comes up with a streaming service and gets people to pay $15 bucks a month for it. 15% of their customers, or 6 million subscribers, drop cable and switch to streaming. HBO would get an additional $45 million a year, max. The bulk oF their revenue --- $255 million-ish --- would still be generated by their deals with the cable companies. And HBO's switch to streaming, assuming an average monthly household cable bill of $75 bucks a month (most households with HBO likely pay more) would have cost the cable co $450 million.

the cable companies are not likely to happy about this, hmmm? Should they retaliate by chopping the fee that HBO gets, they can easily make this an unprofitable move for HBO --- merely cutting the fee to $6 bucks, what HBO was getting as recently as 2008, would zero out any profit in the above example; chop it to $5 and HBO loses money out of the deal.

All of that above is back of the envelope and filled with possibly-unjustified assumptions, and it doesn't reflect the complexity of HBO's business model --- they're a global company that licenses their content around the world, they sell DVDs, there's all kinds of stuff that goes into it. But that's the basic problem.
posted by Diablevert at 10:41 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, the basic problem is the structure that makes offering a la carte channels difficult.
posted by mediareport at 10:42 AM on June 2, 2013


Time Warner (HBO's parent) has not owned Time Warner Cable for some years now. In fact, Time Warner has less distribution cross ownership than any other studio owner, although admittedly Sony's is pretty weak (the Playstation Network).

If you like HBO programming you have to like the distribution model. There would not and never could have been a Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire (to sat the least of The Wire) without the steady $100 per year (or so) that HBO gets per cable subscriber, which has been the ENTIRE source of the distict creative and business approach they have.

Will that change? Yes, but not necesarrily how you want. We may be moving to a MORE cable/satellite controlled content sphere, not less, as non-linear programming moves to cable On Demand and cable-subscriber verified web-based, and fewer shows are offered a la carte either by subscription (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon prime) or a la carte (iTunes, Vudu, Amazon ppv). It's quite feasible that ad-supported will get in this by phasing out DVRs thru the Copy Never flag in favor of On Demand with dynamic ad insertion
posted by MattD at 10:46 AM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


[This is maybe not a thread to start potentially spoilerrific derails about Game of Thrones itself, please.]
posted by jessamyn at 11:04 AM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


May they and 1,000 generations of their descendants be eternally infested with pubic lice.

So that the public can get pubic lice when screwed by them?

No thank you.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:05 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's becoming increasingly clear that we're getting closer and closer to some sort of digital Eureka/singularity/apotheosis(?), wherein these competing gigantic monolithic corporations empty their coffers fighting for an increased piece of the only pie that matters, because fuck politics, whoever ends up on top of this imminent global telecommunications network brawl is going to be so fantastically, over the top wealthy that we might actually see humans on Mars in my lifetime.

That being said, please don't try to prosecute me for downloading a song that was on a CD I bought. Even if it was back in 1996.
posted by Sphinx at 11:06 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems clear to me that HBO sees their hit shows as tools to drive subscriptions, which must be where they make their money. They don't even release DVDs of episodes, or put them on iTunes, until just before the next season begins, which is a clear attempt to get people to sign up to see what happens next.

I've no use for HBO after what the bastards did to Deadwood. At least I had enough sense to realize that their commitment to feature length episodes to at least resolve the hanging plots waas bullshit, and I didn't get my hopes up.
posted by thelonius at 11:39 AM on June 2, 2013


And they're kind of not dicks about it; HBO Go is more consumer friendly than most video services.

Every TV show that I like that isn't HBO, I can easily subscribe to on iTunes or Amazon and watch the day after it airs on broadcast TV. For a very reasonable amount of money that is VASTLY higher than what any network gets from one viewer watching one season of one show. This despite the fact that those networks' business models all center around advertising, which is taken out of the picture entirely under the paid download model.

Everybody else seems to get this. I see why it's not in HBO's interests to get this, but eventually it's going to bite them in the ass.
posted by Sara C. at 12:31 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


how is "shut up and take my money" not a compelling argument?

When "your money" is not projected to be more than "money I am making now."

If HBO cuts the cord, it harms its relationship with cable companies.

HBO has 30 million US subscribers. Its main competitor, Encore, actually has slightly more and zero barrier to gaining more at the direct loss of HBO. You want to threaten a tenuous market share by offering up subscriptions to ... What? A few hundred thousand guys with tablets interested in paying?

Hell. No.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:34 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you like HBO programming you have to like the distribution model. There would not and never could have been a Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire (to sat the least of The Wire) without the steady $100 per year (or so) that HBO gets per cable subscriber, which has been the ENTIRE source of the distict creative and business approach they have.

I pay about $30 per season of any show I choose to download from iTunes or Amazon.

If all the HBO series went to a model like that, not only would I easily spend $100 a year with them, I would probably do it to the exclusion of some other shows I've subscribed to in the past.
posted by Sara C. at 12:38 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Time Warner (HBO's parent) has not owned Time Warner Cable for some years now.

Thanks for the heads up, I've been so long without cable that I didn't realize that this had happened. The lack of corporate synergy/collusion between HBO/TWC would seem to erode HBO's argument for not offering another means of paying for their programming, though.

There would not and never could have been a Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire (to sat the least of The Wire) without the steady $100 per year (or so) that HBO gets per cable subscriber, which has been the ENTIRE source of the distict creative and business approach they have.

I'd be happy to pay HBO $100/yr directly for access to their programming through my home computer/mobile devices/Roku instead of having to pay a middleman cable provider ~$1200+/yr for the same access through a crappy cable box interface. I already pay Netflix nearly the same amount ($7.99/month = $96/year) for their service, and they're flush with enough cash to fund multiple original offerings this year. If all HBO needs is $100/subscriber to produce their current slate, then they could stand to make a lot more than that by opening up the service to the growing number of people who want to watch HBO but hate having to get cable to do so.

Granted, Netflix and HBO Go both have to piggyback on the $50/month high-speed internet subscription that I already pay for, but I use the internet a LOT more than I watch television, so I don't think twice about it. In my mind, there's something very wrong about paying for both internet access and digital cable regardless of how they're bundled, being that they're both data services that come into my home through the same stretch of pipe.

(On preview, also what Sara C. said.)
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:39 PM on June 2, 2013


And no one should have the right to enlist the criminal justice system to enforce civil contracts.

As a lawyer who handles civil fraud matters, I find this comment not very well thought. I have recently concluded a case that involved my client being defrauded of several million dollars. Concurrent with the civil case, the FBI was conducting its own wire and mail fraud investigation. I expect the grand jury to hand down an indictment soon.

I would be interested to learn why the criminal authorities should have had no role in this matter involving a civil contract.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:50 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Side note, from article:

Even when JSTOR dropped its case against Aaron Swartz for hacking into its system to download academic papers, federal prosecutors continued to pursue him.

Aaron Swartz did not do anything that is anywhere near the ballpark of "hacking" to download academic papers, and anyone who repeats this damnable lie should be banned from tech reporting.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:53 PM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Weird how not watching the show doesn't seem to be an option for anyone here; the only debate is over whether to overpay for it or pirate it.
posted by pete_22 at 1:18 PM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


FWIW, that's the option I take, but then there's not a lot of interest to comment about, which is why you aren't seeing it much.
posted by rewil at 1:21 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fair point :). I guess I'm just kind of baffled by the intensity of fandom around all these highbrow cable shows (15 years now? the sopranos?) ...I mean, I'm sure they're all great shows but it's just TV, right?

And it's my smartest and most "alternative" friends who are most into them, the ones who I would have expected to be the most hostile to corporate-produced entertainment, the most likely to turn it off and start their own band or zine or something. It's like this whole segment of society that would once have dropped out of popular culture has been hooked back in, just because the writing and production values got a little better. It's disturbing.
posted by pete_22 at 1:29 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


pete_22, that's the option I currently take for most HBO products as well.

It's definitely the reason I don't watch Game Of Thrones and The Newsroom, both of which sound really interesting except I can't actually get access to them in a way I find worthwhile.
posted by Sara C. at 1:31 PM on June 2, 2013


The Secret of HBO Go
posted by homunculus at 1:35 PM on June 2, 2013


And yet. AND YET. CAN I GET HBO GO ON TWC IN NYC? No I fucking cannot.

Why not? My wife and I have the app / channel installed on something like five different devices, including my ROKU, and I have TWC in Queens.
posted by zarq at 1:52 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


If this is accurate, then from a legal standpoint it's actually much safer to download things over bittorent then share passwords. However, I think this is needless fear mongering here. Just because some prosecutor could theoretically use a decades old law to prosecute people for sharing passwords doesn't mean there's any chance it might actually happen. Especially for something like GoT where HBO doesn't even care if people torrent it anyway.

Even more annoying, HBO isn't even going after torrenters, let alone trying sue people who share passwords, let alone trying to get them prosecuted in federal court. How would it benefit them in any way to attempt that? Generally the FBI only gets involved in hacking cases if there is a few hundred thousand dollars in damages. That wouldn't be the case here.

And think of the backlash that would happen to HBO if they tried this. Not only would people quit in protest, people would become afraid to even use the service legitimately. There's no way.
Just as copyright is a law which is used to enforce creator's rights, so too are laws that allow the prohibition against sharing an account. -- Horace Rumpole
There is no law against "sharing accounts" There is a law against hacking into (for example) banks and stealing money, and someone on the internet wrote a nonsensical fearmongering article claiming you could be prosecuted under those laws for sharing account credentials, or violating any terms of service agreement on any website.

That's only happened once, as far as I know, in a case where a woman (along with some teen girls) used a fake myspace profile to cyberbully a 13 year old girl who ended up killing herself. Since there wasn't any law on the books at the time against her, the feds tried to prosecute her for violating MySpace's TOS, and they lost.
Just so we're clear, this is because the law is completely insane, and written by computer illiterates on behalf of giant corporations.
"The law" in question was written decades ago when few people accessed computers at all and 'unauthorized' access was incredibly clear-cut. I would say the law wasn't that 'nuts' for it's time, but likely was written by people who weren't too computer literate for the time, and also people who couldn't possibly be familiar with the internet, or a society where people interacted with dozens or hundreds of computer systems every day. But also, the person writing this article is really just fear mongering about the hypothetical consequences in some alternate reality, not anything that might happen in the real world.
I thought that an outcome of the Lori Drew case was that simply violating a TOS agreement isn't itself a crime. Wasn't the distinguishing thing with Aaron Swartz and JSTOR that he physically went and fiddled with things in an IT closet on his campus? -- XMLicious
Well, he never got a trial, so we don't know if he would have been convicted. His lawyers thought he had a good chance of getting off. Going into the wiring closet was a separate trespassing issue, I think. Also, Drew's case never went to the supreme court or anything like that, and the Swartz case was in a different federal circuit.
But look, HBO needs to charge money somehow. And they're kind of not dicks about it; HBO Go is more consumer friendly than most video services. It's a huge problem for their business that the physics of information makes it hard for them to enforce scarcity of their video service. -- Nelson
Except unlike a lot of media companies it's not a huge problem for their business. They don't sell their shows directly. They sell premium channels for cable. One show is not going to be enough to get people to pay for HBO, they need to have a lot of quality content that people want, and they only need people who can actually afford to get buy it. If the millions of people who can't afford HBO pirate their stuff, it literally makes zero difference to their bottom line.

Piracy only affects HBO's bottom line when the following is true about a user:
A) They could afford HBO
B) They have cable but not a premium package
C) They watch a lot of HBO shows, not just GoT
D) They pirate ALL their HBO shows, and if they didn't they'd get the subscription.

Unless all those criteria are met, HBO isn't really losing money if people pirate GoT (or borrow someone's password). If piracy becomes super-widespread, though you could have a situation where cable companies force them to enforce their copyrights because people might be foregoing cable entirely for pirated content.
And the a la carte HBO subscription? Not offered. -- qcubed
You should call them up and ask. I think they may be legally required to give it to you if you ask.
I'd be happy to pay HBO $100/yr directly for access to their programming through my home computer/mobile devices/Roku instead of having to pay a middleman cable provider ~$1200+/yr for the same access through a crappy cable box interface. -- Strange Interlude
Right, and $100 a year is less then $1200 a year, so you are saying you'd be willing to pay less money for the same product. Duh, of course they are not going to take up that offer. HBO is already getting $90 a year out of that $1200, and if the cable companies squeeze them even a little on their cable subscribers, then they make less money overall even if they do pick up some $100/year users.

And of course, if they do switch they'd be much more exposed to piracy as well.
Weird how not watching the show doesn't seem to be an option for anyone here; the only debate is over whether to overpay for it or pirate it. -- pete_22
Sure, also an option: punching yourself in the face for no reason.
posted by delmoi at 1:53 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


elizardbits, a quick google search shows that TWC released HBO Go to NYC subscribers back in 2011. Which sounds about right -- that's when I gained access. If you haven't checked in a while, you might want to try again.
posted by zarq at 1:55 PM on June 2, 2013


It's a huge problem for their business that the physics of information makes it hard for them to enforce scarcity of their video service.

I think that when your business model has an inherent problem due to physics, you should probably just go back to the drawing board with your business model.

Although many have tried, litigating the universe into submission does not strike me as a good long-term strategy.

Then again, it's pretty rare that a company gives a shit about long-term anything.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:02 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would be interested to learn why the criminal authorities should have had no role in this matter involving a civil contract.

Tanizaki: Because fraud is primarily a malum in se criminal matter, that also permits a "me too" civil claim, while copyright infringement is a malum prohibitum civil matter that has no business being criminalized, at least according to those of us who have adopted the prevailing norms of the digital age.

In fact, many of us are simply waiting for the old guard to die out and release their grip on the reigns of power so that we can eliminate the abuses of the current legal framework.
posted by gd779 at 2:03 PM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Prosecuting Computer Crimes, U.S. DOJ Office of Legal Education
posted by XMLicious at 2:08 PM on June 2, 2013


...fraud is primarily a malum in se criminal matter...

Dayum. Shit just got latin.
posted by Kinbote at 2:11 PM on June 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


My cable provider is a rural telephone cooperative. And while they offer HBO and all the other premium channels, HBO-GO is not available to us. The employees I have talked to have hinted they are too small for HBO to bother with but HBO is pretty efficient at notifying them when their ISP shows up because one of their customers downloaded a series. I have some sympathy for HBO not wanting to kill the golden goose of cable providers by going online but it only goes so far.

That said, HODOR.
posted by Ber at 2:30 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the first linked article: "It’s a misdemeanor with a maximum one-year prison sentence"

The maximum sentence, you say? In the same way that, in the jurisdiction I practise law in (England), the maximum sentence for stealing some money is 7 years or and the maximum hurting someone by hitting them is life in prison?

Of course, the vast majority of people I saw sentenced for shoplifting got a fine or some community service, and the same went for those convicted of giving someone a black eye. That's because a maximum sentence is far above a typical sentence. Life imprisonment for assault is the maximum penalty for grievous bodily harm, and would only apply if an exceptionally serious case where there were relevant previous convictions. Seven years for theft is what you get for stealing millions of pounds. (Insert obligatory "unless you are a banker in which case you get a bonus" joke.)

So, when anyone quotes a maximum sentence without commenting on sentencing guidelines or typical sentences, the main point to take away is that the writer is a legal ignoramus who is more interesting in grabbing headlines that in providing anything resembling meaningful analysis.
posted by Major Clanger at 2:38 PM on June 2, 2013


i have this bookmarked for the next thread where people deride the users of bittorrent.
posted by cupcake1337 at 2:46 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you haven't checked in a while, you might want to try again.

IDK I checked on my ipad at the end of last season and they were like LOLNO so I decided to torrent with extreme prejudice, despite the fact that I can and do watch it live.
posted by elizardbits at 2:54 PM on June 2, 2013


I know when I had HBO a couple years ago, when I tried to watch something through HBO Go on my ipad at the same time as a friend was streaming something, I got kicked off. I find it surprising to imagine that they have actually loosened any simultaneous access restrictions?

I also found out recently that Game of Thrones is available for next-day digital download through iTunes Australia, so I fired up my Australian iTunes account, paid for the season, and now torrent it every week without feeling guilty (legally I don't believe that made a difference though). Of course, Australia's TV scene is completely different to the US, so it just shows that HBO is willing to do reasonable things when not battling with the cable companies here.
posted by jacalata at 3:03 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Because fraud is primarily a malum in se criminal matter, that also permits a "me too" civil claim, while copyright infringement is a malum prohibitum civil matter that has no business being criminalized, at least according to those of us who have adopted the prevailing norms of the digital age.

That does not explain why "no one should have the right to enlist the criminal justice system to enforce civil contracts." The distinction between fraud and copyright infringement also something that you are simply declaring, and incorrectly at that. We do not use "malum prohibitum" to describe civil matters. There is no "malum" in breach of contract.

Like it or not, copyright is in the Constitution and it is a form of property. Just because it is not always tangible does not mean it is not property anymore than a parcel of real estate. The fact that the "digital age" makes it a lot easier to disregard intellectual property rights as opposed to tangible or real property rights is legally of no import despite any "prevailing norms".

That being said, the Constitution does say for a "limited time" and I think that the original US copyright term of 14+14 years was perfectly adequate to protect the rights of authors. But, thanks to the Berne Convention, just about every country now has a copyright term of at least 50 years beyond the life of the author. This may be worth bearing in mind when thinking about how great international treaties are.
posted by Tanizaki at 3:11 PM on June 2, 2013


I'm somewhat torn on this.

On the one hand, it seems silly for someone to get jail-time for watching a TV show.

On the other hand, it is theft with a measurable, albeit minuscule, cost to HBO.
Bandwidth and servers, while cheap, are not free and unlike torrenting, she is directly using HBO's infrastructure without paying for it.
posted by madajb at 3:35 PM on June 2, 2013


We do not use "malum prohibitum" to describe civil matters. There is no "malum" in breach of contract.

Yes, and the criminal justice system is not available to prosecute breach of contract actions either. I was assuming you thought that copyright infringement should be criminalized. Surely you don't think that TOS violations or other contract breaches should be criminal matters?

"Malum prohibitum" means, roughly, "it is wrong because it is prohibited." It refers to conduct, such as copyright infringement, that is wrong only because it is prohibited by statute or other legal text (such as the constitution). My point was that fraud is a criminal act because it is malum in se. Copyright infringement is not, it is malum prohibita only, and as you point out breach of contract is not wrong at all. Therefore, neither should be regarded as a criminal act and no one should have the right to enlist the criminal justice system for either type of violation.

Like it or not, copyright is in the Constitution and it is a form of property. Just because it is not always tangible does not mean it is not property anymore than a parcel of real estate. The fact that the "digital age" makes it a lot easier to disregard intellectual property rights as opposed to tangible or real property rights is legally of no import despite any "prevailing norms".

Copyright is not in the Constitution. It is authorized by the Constitution, but it is not a Constitutional right. Congress could abolish all copyright without violating Article I, Section 8.

And property rights are a bundle of sticks, to go back to my memory of the 1L Property course. The fact that personal property, real property, and intellectual property are all forms of property does not mean they all need equivalent rights and remedies. In fact, copyright is intrinsically different than other forms of property and should be treated differently.
posted by gd779 at 3:36 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


> [P]lease don't try to prosecute me for downloading a song that was on a CD I bought. Even if it was back in 1996.

Ditto. I can't be bothered to re-rip a CD or DVD if I can torrent a Stones or Prince song/album/movie in less time.
posted by vhsiv at 3:37 PM on June 2, 2013


And yes, I am aware that in some circumstances TOS violations are arguably criminal acts under the CFAA and wiretap laws. That's exactly the kind of crazy talk that is out of step with prevailing norms, which is why it tends to lose in court.
posted by gd779 at 3:40 PM on June 2, 2013


I guess I'm just kind of baffled by the intensity of fandom around all these highbrow cable shows (15 years now? the sopranos?) ...I mean, I'm sure they're all great shows but it's just TV, right?

*slowly pets snarling anthropomorphic version of The Wire as it snaps at the air*

"Settle, settle, he knows not what he says.."
posted by starman at 3:41 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a huge problem for their business that the physics of information makes it hard for them to enforce scarcity of their video service.
I think that when your business model has an inherent problem due to physics, you should probably just go back to the drawing board with your business model.

Yeah, except HBO's business model isn't even affected by piracy to begin with, because you are not their customers. HBO's customers are the cable providers.

Eventually, that may change as more people 'cut the cord', but it's going to take a while for that to happen, and the cable companies are going to do everything they can to prevent broadband technology and content availability from advancing to the point where that becomes easy to do.

And being able to access HBO Go without a cable subscription would be an advance in content availability they don't want to see happen, so they're going to try to stop it by pressuring HBO.
posted by delmoi at 3:55 PM on June 2, 2013


the Constitution does say for a "limited time" and I think that the original US copyright term of 14+14 years was perfectly adequate to protect the rights of authors.

Life expectancy US 1790 - 34 - 40 years
Life expectancy US 2010 - 79.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:33 PM on June 2, 2013


I think that when your business model has an inherent problem due to physics, you should probably just go back to the drawing board with your business model.

The physics only changed 5–10 years ago, they're trying to figure out what to do now. I'm hopeful they figure out something, because infinite copying with no payment is going to wreck a lot of interesting subscription-financed content. I really like Game of Thrones, you know?

My experience of HBO to Go is that one day HBO offered me a new way to watch the content I already pay for. Extending my access to mobile devices, even when I'm not in my home with my cable subscription. For free. It seemed pretty generous to me.
posted by Nelson at 4:50 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


no doubt HBO would charge you more or bring civil or criminal charges against you if they had some way to know if you invited your friends over to watch GoT.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:05 PM on June 2, 2013


I'm hopeful they figure out something, because infinite copying with no payment is going to wreck a lot of interesting subscription-financed content.

Well they still seem to manage to create new music on a regular basis, and physics broke that economic model around 1999.
posted by localroger at 5:19 PM on June 2, 2013


There is no restriction that I know of to simultaneous access. My family has accessed HBO Go from 3 different devices in separate locations.
posted by zarq at 5:50 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


well that is clearly sorcery and i am denouncing you to the inquisition
posted by elizardbits at 6:40 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Life expectancy US 1790 - 34 - 40 years
Life expectancy US 2010 - 79.


Nearly all of that increase is reduction of infant mortality rates.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:48 PM on June 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yes, I am inclined to agree that cable providers have a huge say in this business model not just HBO/content creators. For instance, my cable bill from Comcast will actually go up if I just subscribe to their internet service (same bandwidth & everything). It costs me less to get internet+tv than just internet. I'm guessing showing me as a tv subscriber gives them an added leverage in someform somewhere...but this is just crazy.
posted by asra at 6:49 PM on June 2, 2013


I mean, I'm sure they're all great shows but it's just TV, right?

It's not TV, it's HBO.
posted by Justinian at 7:56 PM on June 2, 2013


I mean, I'm sure they're all great shows but it's just TV, right?

My wife about crawled into a fetal position after tonight's episode so I'd say...um, no.
posted by Ber at 8:09 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


What Pope Guilty said. In the 1790s, as today, if you got through childhood you had a pretty damned good chance of reaching your "threescore and ten." With all due respect, changes in life expectancy are a completely bogus reason to support extended copyright.
posted by litlnemo at 8:25 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Life expectancy US 1790 - 34 - 40 years
Life expectancy US 2010 - 79.

Nearly all of that increase is reduction of infant mortality rates.


This is completely irrelevant to the fact that it indicates the length of copyright has expanded rather dramatically.
posted by rollbiz at 8:46 PM on June 2, 2013


This is completely irrelevant to the fact that it indicates the length of copyright has expanded rather dramatically.

That... was my point?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:48 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


You should call them up and ask. I think they may be legally required to give [an a la carte HBO subscription] to you if you ask.

Delmoi, can you say more about this? Because I've never heard anything like this before, and it's the exact opposite of the way things seem to actually work, so if there's a statute or court case that says otherwise, I'd be very interested to see it.
posted by decathecting at 8:29 AM on June 3, 2013


"Malum prohibitum" means, roughly, "it is wrong because it is prohibited." It refers to conduct, such as copyright infringement, that is wrong only because it is prohibited by statute or other legal text (such as the constitution). My point was that fraud is a criminal act because it is malum in se. Copyright infringement is not, it is malum prohibita only, and as you point out breach of contract is not wrong at all. Therefore, neither should be regarded as a criminal act and no one should have the right to enlist the criminal justice system for either type of violation.

I agree that copyright infringement is malum prohibitum but that does not mean that no criminal penalties are available or that they shouldn't be available. Drunk driving, insider trading, and failure to pay income tax are malum prohibitum but there are certainly criminal penalties for commission of these acts. When you say of malum prohibitum that "neither should be regarded as a criminal act and no one should have the right to enlist the criminal justice system for either type of violation", do you think there should not be criminal penalties for drunk driving or insider trading, for example?

Copyright is not in the Constitution. It is authorized by the Constitution, but it is not a Constitutional right. Congress could abolish all copyright without violating Article I, Section 8.

Correct, it is absolutely not a constitutional right because the articles set forth government powers and not individual rights. However, it is accurate to say copyright is in the Constitution just like post offices and the navy are in the Constitution. There is no constitutional right to have a post office or a navy but by the same token, let's not get a case of the vapors because copyright exists in the US.

Perhaps the abolition of copyright law would not violate Art. I.8, but it would run afoul of the Supremacy Clause of Art. VI.2, which makes the Berne Convention and other treaties regarding copyright the supreme law of the land. So, we would need to withdraw from all treaties regarding copyright before abolishing copyright if we wished to avoid a constitutional issue. While theoretically possible, I do not believe this will ever happen.

And property rights are a bundle of sticks, to go back to my memory of the 1L Property course. The fact that personal property, real property, and intellectual property are all forms of property does not mean they all need equivalent rights and remedies. In fact, copyright is intrinsically different than other forms of property and should be treated differently.

Of course it is treated differently. IP is infringed while real property is trespassed and tangible property is stolen. I do not think anyone could say they aren't treated differently.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:15 PM on June 3, 2013


Even more annoying, HBO isn't even going after torrenters

Like four years ago I got... I don't even remember the specifics, but I think it was a C&D because I'd torrented an episode of True Blood. I only got caught the once, which makes me think it was because I'd accidentally left my school's VPN connected and HBO was specifically looking to go after universities. So it's not like they're not at least paying attention.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:02 PM on June 3, 2013


I'm not sure I'd agree that drunk driving is truly malum prohibitum by today's standards, in that many people would recognize it as inherently wrong; but Garner's entry on these terms cites Learned Hand's comment from The Common Law (1881): "a malum prohibitum is just as much of a crime as a malum in se." I'm not sure the distinction is particularly helpful here. It might be more to the point to ask whether the intent behind copyright infringement of this kind really constitutes a criminal mens rea.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:42 PM on June 4, 2013


"a malum prohibitum is just as much of a crime as a malum in se."

Absolutely correct. That is why I was baffled by the claim made regarding malum prohibitum acts that "neither should be regarded as a criminal act and no one should have the right to enlist the criminal justice system for either type of violation." If I drive home over the legal limit, even if I do not harm any person or property, I have committed a malum prohibitum crime. I think the argument that the criminal justice system should therefore not be involved is a novel one.

It might be more to the point to ask whether the intent behind copyright infringement of this kind really constitutes a criminal mens rea.

Of course. Not every act of copyright infringement carries with it criminal liability, but I would venture to say that most acts of copyright infringement are intentional. No one use torrents to download their favorite tv show and thinks they are doing something legally permissible. Also, felony copyright infringement requires a certain retail value threshhold of $2,500 presently.

FWIW, the larger statute at play in the password sharing is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but that is not as fun to discuss because most people have never heard of this law. As for my opinion, I would not see anyone imprisoned for sharing passwords as described in the article.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:53 AM on June 5, 2013


I would venture to say that most acts of copyright infringement are intentional

Maybe the sort that get brought to court, but I would think that in general most of those acts that occur in are unintentional - things like singing "Happy Birthday" in public, or in private and then uploading it to Youtube, for example. In 2007 this guy estimated that he incurs $4.5 billion per year of liability for infringement just from day-to-day life, partly because he has a tattoo of a copyrighted image:
Overly-broad copyright law has made USA a “nation of infringers”
posted by XMLicious at 12:20 PM on June 5, 2013


Of course. Not every act of copyright infringement carries with it criminal liability, but I would venture to say that most acts of copyright infringement are intentional.

Yes, quite right. I need to learn to be more precise. The required intent is there, under the current rule. I meant that rather than talking about malum prohibitum the question of "what intent does society want to criminalize, rather than subject to civil liability" was taught (by my crim prof) as the policy side of mens rea.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:20 AM on June 6, 2013


delmoi: "If this is accurate, then from a legal standpoint it's actually much safer to download things over bittorent then share passwords. However, I think this is needless fear mongering here. Just because some prosecutor could theoretically use a decades old law to prosecute people for sharing passwords doesn't mean there's any chance it might actually happen. Especially for something like GoT where HBO doesn't even care if people torrent it anyway."

Not so much. I got a C&D for the first episode.
posted by Samizdata at 2:40 AM on June 7, 2013


I got a C&D for the first episode.

Did you download it before it was broadcast?

I have anecdotal evidence that suggests, at least to the extent that I am willing to test myself, that you are far more likely to get a C&D or an ISP nastygram for downloading shows or (especially) still-in-theater movies that have not yet been released, than if you are downloading run-of-the-mill TV or DVD rips of something that was broadcast or released on disc at least a few days prior.

Downloading stuff that has not yet been broadcast or is still in theaters, from public BT trackers without an anonymizing VPN or other precautions anyway, is widely regarded among people that I know and trust to be a Very Bad Idea.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:20 PM on June 10, 2013


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