NASHVILLE - Tennessee lawmakers in country music's capital have passed a groundbreaking measure that would make it a crime to use a friend's log-in - even with permission - to listen to songs or watch movies from services such as Netflix or Rhapsody.
The bill, now awaiting the governor's signature, 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.
Although 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 user name 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 a year in jail and a fine of $2,500.
Theft with a higher price tag would be a felony, with heavier penalties.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that he hasn't yet reviewed the bill but expressed support for steps to reduce music piracy, citing the large record-industry presence in Nashville.
"I don't know enough about that legislation, but if it's combating that issue, I would be in favor of it," Haslam said.
The recording industry, a major taxpayer in Tennessee, loses money when users share accounts for music services instead of paying separately.
Mitch Glazier, executive vice president of public policy for the recording-industry association, 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.
Music-industry officials said they usually catch people who steal and resell log-ins in large quantities because they advertise.
by Sheila Burke and Lucas L. Johnson II Associated Press Jun. 2, 2011 12:00 AM
Tenn. passes Web log-in theft bill
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