Christine McMillan, an 86-year-old Canadian grandmother, had never even heard of the first-person zombie shooter she was accused of pirating.
But earlier this year, she was issued with a fine of several thousand dollars for allegedly illegally downloading the video game Metro 2033.
The firm that sent the demand has since said the incident was “an unfortunate anomaly”, but McMillan thinks that Canadian law is partly to blame for allowing companies to make false accusations.
Internet service providers (ISPs) in Canada are mandated to forward the physical addresses of people whose IP addresses content owners have identified as being the source of illegal downloads.
“I found it quite shocking. I’m 86, no-one has access to my computer but me, why would I download a war game?” McMillan told Canada’s CBC TV network.
The BBC reported that McMillan thought the letter was a scam, before her ISP told her the notices are legal.
She told CBC: “It seems to be a very foolish piece of legislation.”
Canadian Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement, the issuer of the fine, told the BBC the “McMillan notice” was “simply one of multiple of thousands of notices that we handle monthly”. It accused Cogeco, McMillan’s ISP, of being “unreliable” in the way it “reconciles the IP... to the appropriate subscriber”.
CBC reported that McMillan is probably among thousands of Canadians to have received notices to pay up, “whether they are guilty or not”.
Thousands of O2 and Sky customers in the UK received letters last year demanding cash for illegally downloading pornographic films.
Experts say there’s no legal obligation to pay the fines, adding that IP addresses aren’t proof of guilt, as the bill payer may not have made the copyright infringement.
Copyright news website TorrentFreak says the schemes rely on fear: “The power of the settlement scheme lies in the uncertainty people face. Most recipients are unaware of the notice-and-notice system and fear that a lawsuit is looming. However, thus far not a single lawsuit has followed in these cases.”
CANIPRE told the BBC:
“We will establish a precedent case here in Canada concerning copyright infringement. We have many substantive case files to choose from and will establish a legal precedent here in due course.”