Christine McMillan, a Canadian grandmother, has been accused of illegal downloading of first-person shooter Metro 2033.
And when this 86-year-old from Ontario has been warned that she could have to pay up to $5,000 for illegally downloading a game she’d never heard of, she was quite shocked.
Thousands of Canadians have indeed received, just like her, notices to pay up such fine, whether they are guilty or not.
Last May, this grand-mother received two emails forwarded by her Internet Service Provider (ISP) coming from a private company called Canadian Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement (CANIPRE). They were claiming that she had illegally downloaded Metro 2033, a first-person shooter game where nuclear war survivors have to kill mutants.
Indeed, McMillan’s IP address had been used to download the game. And even though McMillan has an adult grandson, he does not have access to her computer.
At first, McMillan thought it was a scam. “They didn’t tell me how much I owed, 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.”
McMillan contacted Cogeco, her ISP, and discovered that the emails were indeed legal under the Canadian federal government’s Notice and Notice regulations introduced in 2015 under the Copyright Modernization Act.
What the law requires is that ISP forward copyright infringement notices to customers who are suspected of illegally downloading content like video games and movies.
These federal government’s rules on internet copyright seems to be, for many internet users like McMillan as she stated herself “a very foolish piece of legislation”.
Customers are often identified and spotted by ISP only through their IP address, as the ISP does not disclose any personal information to the copyright enforcers.
The goal is to give copyright holders an easy way to notify users of alleged copyright infringement occurring at their internet address.
This resulted though in massive notifications to suspected offenders from anti-piracy companies requiring them to pay a fee.
What is important to know is that copyright holders, i.e. movie studios or video game developers, work with third-party companies like CANIPRE to collect settlement money for alleged illegal downloads.
CANIPRE’s owner explained that he got 400 calls and emails from people on a busy day and that “most of them” settle.
“Ultimately, we are helping our clients get their educational message out about anti-piracy and theft of content and how it harms them and their rightful marketplace,” Barry Logan said.
A smaller Canadian-based ISP, TekSavvy, which has fewer than 300,000 subscribers reported earlier this year to have sent out around 5,000 notices a day.
As in the case of McMillan, as she lives in an apartment, someone could have accessed her unsecured wireless connection to download the game using her IP address.
Some critics say the law needs to be revised so that Canadians can better understand their rights.
David Fewer, director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, says the legislation should include a form letter that doesn’t demand cash. He also added that what is even more tricky, is determining legitimate penalties, since no cases involving the Notice and Notice regime have been settled in court yet.
There is no legal obligation to pay any settlement offered by a copyright owner.
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