Rarely is my humble state first in anything these days (unless you count the other law that “opens the door to corporate political donations“). We get that dubious distinction to be the first to pass a law that governor Bill Haslam signed onto the books this week (it goes into effect July 1) that would make sharing your entertainment subscription service username and password a crime. The House Bill 1783 was an amendment to an existing law that was originally enacted to prosecute cable television sharers and those who skipped out without paying their restaurant bill.

If you read the paragraph in the amendment (PDF link!) you’ll see this bill really covers a lot of ground in all of the things that come under its umbrella. Since Tennessee derives a good chunk of its economy from the entertainment industry (Nashville is both the country music and Christian music capital of the world, and, well, Memphis has Elvis!) then it’s not altogether surprising that this would happen here first. I wasn’t aware of the bill until the Governor signed it but I would bet the RIAA had a lot to do with its passing.

The sponsor of the bill was Tennessee Republican and District 26 representative Gerald McCormick. He’s part of the Southern Tennessee city of Chattanooga and, while I don’t know Mr. McCormick personally, I wonder just how much he really knows about the Internet, technology and new media. It’s long been a running joke that a lot of lawmakers (be it on a state or national level) who are making legislation about technology and the Internet really don’t use technology and the Internet. I’ve heard stories about Tennessee lawmakers who have never used email, can barely use the Internet and wouldn’t know a Tweet from a Like. While I don’t know if Gerald McCormick is one of the Capitol Hill Luddites making our laws I do see that the front page of his website includes both a link to a GIGANTIC 4.6 megabyte PDF (here’s the link of you dare!) of his district map as well as another PDF link to a printable survey form that he asks to be completed and faxed back to his office. Perhaps Mr. McCormick hasn’t heard of free online survey tools. I’m no technology expert myself (outside of my field of post production) but I’m not making laws either.

One of the more entertaining things to do if this subject interests you—and you have time to kill—is to dig into the comments on some of the news coverage about the law itself. Our local newspaper has some good ones in response to their article. Commenters talk about how people often share books, CDs and DVDs and how this law is nothing more than protectionism for the outdated business model that still defines much of the entertainment business. Someone insists that “illegally downloading is … no different than knocking off a liquor store.” I think some would beg to differ with that last one.

Much of the discussion about this law specifically refers to Netflix streaming; while that’s probably the prevailing “entertainment subscription service” out there right now, there are others. In fact a comment on Hacking Netflix brings up the good point that you can’t have a large number of Netflix streams going at the same time anyway. Netflix has acknowledged that issue and are looking at possible plans for multiple streams on an account (Comcast is going to love that one).

This law may very well be a case of a solution in search of a problem. If the random entertainment subscription service can’t be built in such a way that it can squash attempts to use the same login credentials at the same time from different devices and locations, than maybe it deserves to be ripped off! I would think that entertainment subscription service providers would build that in to protect their business. I guess your parents, friends, siblings and dorm buddies could sign in to your entertainment subscription service from afar when you’re not using it but there has to be a way for the service to keep tabs on exactly who is signing in, for how often and from what location. Seems like good technology could be built to foil these entertainment subscription service scofflaws better than a needless law will.