By Carole McNall
I glanced at the sexy headline: Sharing your Netflix password is now a federal crime, court rules.
Intrigued, I read the story. Then I read the court case, United States v. Nosal.
I discovered, within a page and a half, that the headline writer had created his or her own legal precedent. The blunt statement that made a sexy headline was far less nuanced and far more definitive than the actual decision.
The story I read was bylined, which I always take to mean a reporter actually does something to gather the information. But for many reporters, “gathering information” for this story seemed to mean finding it on another website and doing a little rewrite.
So let me offer some context for evaluating the sexy headline.
Who was sharing passwords and why? The password sharing happened when David Nosal and two others decided to leave the executive search firm Korn/Ferry. Before they left, they began downloading information from Korn/Ferry’s confidential database of search candidates. Even after their access to the system was revoked, they continued downloading, using the freely given password of someone still working at Korn/Ferry.
The firm emphasized the confidentiality of the database through messages ranging from a required agreement for all new employees to a pop-up message every time someone did a custom search.
Eventually, Korn/Ferry discovered the access and criminal charges were filed. This month’s decision was the second appeal of Nosal’s conviction on those charges to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
OK, there’s the federal crime. But what law did they violate? Continue reading