My Notice and Notice Horror Story

As I've stated before, I've never been a big illegal downloader. Besides being a touch paranoid and extremely "rules-conscious", I was also trained as a musician, which means I have opinions about artists getting remunerated for their work. So, in 2014, when Canada's new Notice and Notice system of copyright enforcement came into effect, I was ready to go - Netflix, iTunes, and Sunday night trips to a friend's house to watch Game of Thrones on HBO via her cable subscription.

Yes sir, all my ducks were in a row. Everything straight and narrow... or so I thought.

In March of 2015, I received a pair of copyright notices forwarded by my internet service provider (ISP). At the time, lots of Canadians were getting flooded with these notices. The notices claimed that, a month prior, I had downloaded a pair of films via BitTorrent. I hadn't downloaded the films, nor had I even heard of the films before. The next day, another notice came in, for a different title on a different date.

Naturally, I had some initial concern that one of our computers had been hacked and was acting as a bittorrent server, but as an IT Professional, I'd like to think that I do a pretty good job with computer security at home. Then I noticed the bombshell: the IP address on the copyright notices wasn't mine.

I like to occasionally access my home computers from work - that means I have to keep track of my internet connection's WAN (wide area network) IP address. The IP address on the copyright notices was different (mine hadn't changed in months). That meant that I was likely getting someone else's notices.

That thought sent a chill through me. Out there was some other customer, with this IP address that had become associated with "Jesse Schooff" and my e-mail address. I quickly called up my ISP and explained the situation. The fellow I talked to admitted that there were problems with the new notice system; that this was probably nothing to worry about and that he would put in a request with legal and someone would get back to me in a few days.

Guess what happened? Yeah - nothing.

So a week later I phoned again, got a different customer service rep, and explained my situation AGAIN. The second guy I talked to was, frankly, a bit of a dick. I could tell that he assumed I was trying to wiggle out of the consequences for downloading something illegally. He said things like, "Well, maybe we can find out why your copyright notices have the wrong IP address written on them." I pressed, and eventually got the same promise: we'll put in a request with legal and get back to you.

Another week went by with no callback. At this point, I was getting upwards of nine e-mails every day. Anyone who has gotten these e-mails know they aren't pleasant. The e-mail accuses you of downloading illegally, and then makes an outrageous demand for monetary settlement, followed by a deadline. It ends with the address of a lawyer or law firm. These e-mails are meant to rattle you. Believe me, they work.

I realized that, probably, a huge number of subscribers were calling customer support about this issue, either expressing concern or outright claiming that they hadn't downloaded anything illegally, and that my issue was likely going to get lost in the fray. I was having terrifying (if slightly exaggerated) visions of the point where this legal firm subpoenaed my subscriber information from my ISP, and served me with a crippling lawsuit. I imagined being pushed implacably through the legal system by people with extremely poor tech literacy: "It's not your IP address? Well, your ISP says that it is. It's up to you to prove that it isn't!" I wondered, what else was the person behind this other IP address doing?

By the time I was ready to make my THIRD call to customer support, I had my big guns ready. Despite many complaints I've heard from others, up until this experience, I'd always been extremely satisfied with the efficacy of my ISP's customer service. But when the rep picked up, I made it clear that if the issue couldn't be resolved that they were going to lose a longtime customer. Luckily for me, this rep was friendly and willing to listen.

I did stick to my guns though, and made sure to correct both my rep and her supervisor when they offered up an explanation which I knew was technologically incorrect. By the end of the call, it was mutually agreed that, for some reason, their legal department was forwarding me copyright notices for some other person's account. The question was now why.

It took another week to completely resolve the situation, and required some detective work on my part. One day at home, while pondering the situation, my thoughts turned to my old household.

For several years, I had lived in a big house with four other adult roommates. For most of that time, I had been the account holder of our internet connection, provided by the same ISP. When Notice and Notice for Canada was announced, I told my roommates that I'd prefer if someone else was the account holder. A couple of them were prolific downloaders, and I argued that I shouldn't have to be legally liable for anything they downloaded. So one of my roommates called up our ISP and transferred the account to her name. A year later, I moved away. That was two and a half years prior.

The moment the thought occurred to me, I messaged one of my former roommates on Facebook:

Me: "Hey - You at home right now?"
Him: "Yes"
Me: "Could you do me a favour?"
Him: "Sure?"
Me: "Go to Google, type 'what's my ip address' and tell me what it says?"

Sure enough, the IP address from the notices was theirs.

Apparently, years ago, when my roommate called the ISP, they had changed the billing contact for the account to her, but I had somehow remained as the main contact. So, when the ISP received a copyright infringement notice for one of their IP addresses (that of my former roommates'), their legal department looked up the contact information of the associated account, and forwarded the notice to the first contact on there: Me.

This issue has long since been corrected, but it just goes to show how mistakes can easily be made under the Notice and Notice system. Corporations want to be able to associate an IP address with an individual person; it makes it easier to sue someone.

I documented this story in the hopes that this kind of thing doesn't happen to anyone else. I also encourage all Canadian ISPs to develop processes to make sure that their customers aren't wrongly accused of copyright infringement, or even more serious crimes, due to out-of-date account information.

image copyright: Ho Yeow Hui/Shutterstock