Netflix, Spotify, Amazon… Saving money by sharing your subscription with strangers, a permanent solution?

The trend is towards sharing: carpooling, colocation, coworking… So why not co-subscription? The principle is not new, of course: sharing your Netflix codes with friends or family is a rather widespread practice. Since any savings are good to take at a time when inflation is tightening the wallet, young entrepreneurs have decided to surf the phenomenon and offer solutions that facilitate the process of accessing less expensive subscriptions.

Many “subscription Blablacars” have thus emerged, such as Spliit, diivii or Sharesub, on the French side. Their offers are simple and broadly similar: easily share subscription costs by connecting subscription holders with co-subscribers. Once the account is created, the user has access to hundreds of shared subscriptions: music streaming, video on demand, video games, software, e-commerce, Cloud services, or even well-being and education.

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Subscription holders can choose to share it privately, with other platform members they know personally, or publicly, with strangers. This last choice is also the most popular. A user can use the platform in both directions, by sharing his subscription and by subscribing to another offer as a co-subscriber. If the account owner wishes to remove their offer, they must do so 30 days in advance. Co-subscribers can terminate their subscription at any time.

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And users can make real savings. A subscription to Spotify Premium (9.99 euros per month in individual subscription) costs only 3.15 euros per month on a platform like Spliiit. By taking four services, Netflix, Spotify, PlayStation Plus and Amazon Prime, rather than paying 575.54 euros per year by subscribing individually, you only pay 145.80 euros per year by joining co-subscriptions via diivii.

The platforms are remunerated directly on subscription shares thanks to a commission paid by co-subscribers of 5% of the monthly amount (+ 35 cents per subscription for Spliiit, and + 20 cents per subscription for diivii). At Sharesub, the commission is 4.5% to which you must add 0.39 euros per payment.

Attractive but legal?

But can the model of these start-ups hold up over the long term? This participatory subscription system seems to take advantage of legal inaccuracies regarding account sharing. In the general conditions of use of Netflix, Canal+ or Spotify, it is clearly stated that sharing between individuals outside the home is prohibited.

This is what co-subscription services remind us of, by encouraging their users to share access within the same household. They thus protect themselves legally, specifying that their activities are nothing other than “intermediation”. A way for them to take advantage of the remaining gray areas, in particular through the difficulty of defining what a “home” or a “restricted family circle” is.

According to Maître Alain Bensoussan, lawyer in digital law, “it is difficult to say that this is unacceptable from a criminal point of view. But on a civil level, the platforms cannot ignore the general conditions of use of the publishers”. It is for him a “breach of contractual clauses”. For his part, Maître Antoine Cheron, lawyer in intellectual property law, warns against the harm that the sharing of subscriptions brings to rights holders (artists, authors, etc.). “Basically, streaming platforms are doing very well financially. But at the end of the chain, it is the artists who are harmed, once again”, he denounces.

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For Netflix, account sharing becomes difficult to tolerate as the American continues to lose subscribers. On October 18, 2022, the firm announced that it wanted to make it chargeable thanks to a solution that it will test in 2023. This would involve invoicing a few euros per month for each additional user of the same subscription.

In their hunt for shared accounts, Netflix, Apple and Disney have engaged in a legal battle against Spliiit, which won the first round in March before the High Court of Paris. Guillaume Lochard, co-founder of the start-up, says he is “very confident” for the rest of the procedure. “It’s mostly a question of money,” he slips to Capital. “They have always allowed out-of-home account sharing. Now they are looking for ways to profit from these subscriptions.” According to him, publishers, who were often quite hesitant at the start, increasingly understand that their interests are at stake. “Americans are pragmatic: they know that they are allowed to attract new customers. They therefore have no interest in penalizing us”, he confides before affirming: “We are in the direction of history, and they understand it.”

So most platforms turn a blind eye to these practices, for now. Because very often, they find their account there, according to the founders of diivii. “It’s a win-win. Co-subscription allows many users to get out of piracy, thanks to more accessible prices”, they say. A way, according to them, to retain users and reach a target that would not have considered subscribing without the possibility of sharing the cost. And faced with Netflix’s decision to charge a supplement to users who share their subscription, diivii, which is counting on a price increase of 1.50 euros, believes that its offer will be “always more interesting”.

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