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Tennessee Passes Web Entertainment Theft Bill

August 28, 2011

Tennessee Passes Web Entertainment Theft Bill

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has signed a groundbreaking legislation that went into effect July 1st, making the theft of “subscription entertainment services” a crime. Previously, the state law in Tennessee deems it illegal to steal a “service.” A “service” was specified to include satellite television, mail, gas, water, telephone, and “any other activity or product considered in the ordinary course of business to be a service”. With the passage of House Bill 1783, the term “service” will now include “entertainment subscription services,” making it illegal to use someone else’s subscription to account to access entertainment services, such as Netflix and Rhapsody.

However, the scope of the new law is unclear. It suggests that even with the consent of the owner of the account, the use of their account by another person is prohibited. The law further states that anyone who is “directly or indirectly harmed” by the theft of service has standing to report the violation to the police. Likewise, the penalties for such an offense are significant. Stealing $500 or less of entertainment would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500. For thefts of more than $500, the thief risks serious jail time.

Gerald McCormick, the Tennessee House Majority Leader, has said his intention behind the legislation was not the targeting of family members or small circles of friends who casually share passwords. Rather, the law is in anticipation of a continued increase in the number of subscription sites that will result in a surge of large, illegal password-selling rings that are the target of the legislation. Not only the capital of the first state to enact such a law, Nashville, “Music City,” is also home to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a strong supporter and proposer of the bill. Nashville recording industry executives, artists and songwriters all agree and cite the plunge in the music industry’s domestic revenue by more than half in ten years, from $15 billion to $7 billion.

However, some businesses believe the bill to be a solution in search of a problem, as subscription entertainment service providers say they haven’t experienced any problems with password selling or sharing. Most entertainment service have built-in solutions to password sharing by not allowing content to be streamed to more than one location at a time for a single login. These businesses express the fear that they could be liable for customers misusing their establishment’s free-Wi-Fi. Also concerned, Civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, worry about a trend of increased scrutiny of individual’s private Internet behavior. Due to the likeliness of vagueness in the legislation, law-abiding consumers could be exposed to criminal prosecution. This suggests that additional measures could become necessary in the near future.

House Bill 1783
Stealing “entertainment services” now a crime in Tennessee
Posted By: Eston Whiteside