Christine McMillan, an 86 year-old woman from Ontario, was pretty surprised when she received an email claiming she’d pirated post-apocalyptic FPS Metro 2033. She was even more surprised about the part where she was liable for a fine of up to $5,000. Itsy bitsy problem: she didn’t even know what Metro 2033 was.
Grandma Shirley she ain’t, but the email was legit. Go Public reports that it came from a private company called Canadian Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement and was forwarded to her by her Internet provider.
“I found it quite shocking… I’m 86 years old. No one has access to my computer but me. Why would I download a war game?” McMillan told Go Public.
She has an adult grandson, but he apparently doesn’t have access to her computer.
The notice came as a result of the Canadian federal government’s Notice and Notice regulations, which were introduced last year under the Copyright Modernization Act. The law forces some Internet providers to forward infringement notices to customers who might’ve pirated or otherwise illegally downloaded or uploaded copyrighted material.
Notice and Notice’s stated goal is to protect both parties in the event of copyright kerfuffles, allowing the accused party to act (as opposed to simply having material removed by the Internet provider, via the Notice and Takedown system that we use in the US) and hopefully ensuring that non-infringing material isn’t removed because somebody claimed it violated their rights.
BUT in practice it isn’t always quite so elegant. For one, McMillan lives in an apartment, and somebody could’ve leeched off her connection to pilfer a copy of I Really Wish There Were More STALKER Games 2033. On top of that, private companies like Canadian Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement have started sending vague notices to people like McMillan, who according to security analyst and technology expert Wil Knoll, end up paying unnecessary fees out of fear. “It’s preying on people that don’t necessarily understand the system or the technology that surrounds it,” he told Go Public, “and they’re willing to pay out of court because they’re scared.” It’s telling, then, that no Notice and Notice cases have been settled in court yet, further muddying waters already the color of Russia as imagined by Metro 2033.
Despite all of that, these notices don’t necessarily mean people are guilty of, well, anything. They’re just notices. People are not even under legal obligation to pay copyright holders.
In McMillan’s case, she wasn’t even told what she actually owed or other key details. Only what could happen if she didn’t spring into action then and there. “They didn’t tell me how much I owed,” she said. “They only told me that if I didn’t comply, I would be liable for a fine of up to $5,000, and I could pay immediately by entering my credit card number.”
The problem is one of knowledge. Many people don’t understand what this (relatively) new law entails, and companies are taking advantage of that. A review of Canada’s Copyright Act is set for 2017.
As for McMillan, she’s not gonna pay the piper just yet. For now, her plan is to ignore the notices and hope that nobody’s seriously considering lawyering up. An expensive and protracted battle over a game she didn’t even pirate? That doesn’t sound like an attractive prospect for anybody involved.