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Is this correct? Can a MAC address lead a company to the specific user?

They have my phone number and an old email address for me. The information they sent me is showing a MAC address and the specific number of times the pirated software was used and the dates it was used.

The dates coincide with dates that files were sent via internet to another person. I am being threatened with a lawsuit unless I purchase their product license which I cannot afford. Can the company prove that it was me using the pirated version?

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is requesting legal advice, which not only may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but also from case to case, and so should be obtained from a qualified legal practitioner in the appropriate jurisdiction rather than from the Internet where the well-meaning and logical opinions you receive on the matter may leave you more ill-advised than if you hadn't asked at all. – Xander Jan 21 '17 at 0:48
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    As an aside, they don't really have to prove it was you. If they can prove that your ISP says you controlled that MAC address (that's easy to prove) then they probably win. And it's much cheaper for you to settle with them out of court before that happens, at least in the U.S. Even if you were to win, your legal fees would likely cost you more than what they're willing to take out of court now. But seriously, I'm not a lawyer, to talk to one first. An intellectual property lawyer, in your jurisdiction. Not an Internet lawyer. – Xander Jan 21 '17 at 0:51
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    @Xander You really shouldn't be giving any legal advice. This may even be a scam (and likely is). Anyway, your ISP doesn't generally know your MAC address. MAC addresses are hidden behind your router, and aren't sent through to the ISP. – Steve Sether Jan 21 '17 at 1:05
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    @SteveSether if you don't think your ISP is fully aware of each and every device on the network behind the router they gave you, you're fooling yourself. I have a friend who vehemently switched to a double-router setup after having a support call where the tech cheerfully asked questions about some of the identifiable equipment (like a Tivo) on his LAN side. (As in, asked out of the blue about stuff that wasn't part of the call already, and knew what it was based on MAC bin and internal hostname and things like that). They gather that info, they use that info, they sell that info. – gowenfawr Jan 21 '17 at 1:22
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    IMO this is less about legal advice and more about the technical aspects of what information an ISP has about a home user's computer. – Boycott SE for Monica Cellio Jan 21 '17 at 15:17
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I am being threatened with a lawsuit... Can the company prove that it was me using the pirated version?

That is a legal question which no one here can answer (and you'd be best getting professional legal help with). However, several aspects of your question do touch on interesting aspects of security-related license DRM issues, so let's talk about those a bit.

Can a MAC address lead a company to the specific user?

In general, no. However, a MAC address can be used as a compelling indicator as to which computer something happened on. That's the reason that most "licensing software" used to use MAC addresses to "identify" the computer they were installed upon. Because MAC addresses are unique-ish, and because altering them is not brain-dead easy (and used to be quite hard), it's often treated as an identifier of the system that something happened on.

They have my phone number and an old email address for me. The information they sent me is showing a MAC address and the specific number of times the pirated software was used and the dates it was used.

It is very likely that files generated with this software include these things as metadata - again, primitive DRM practices do love the MAC address. If the company found files you generated, which had grabbed your email address (did you register a support account?) and included the times those files were operated on, then they'd have what they needed to gin up a letter for you.

But the lesson here is, every file you generate with software may include all sorts of metadata you didn't expect to be in there. Caveat emptor.

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Their software probably calls home sending some information identifying the computer, including the MAC address.

Can a MAC address lead a company to the specific user?

They would need to link the MAC address with you somehow, maybe their software is also sending your email address, or you registered another of their products (that sent the same MAC) in the same computer.

(Maybe you are using IPv6 without the privacy extensions and/or they asked your ISP for the customer with a given MAC address, but that is unlikely)

Can the company prove that it was me using the pirated version?

Probably not, but we don't know what they did, how they figured it out, nor how luck you could be in a trial. It is also outside the scope of this site. Also note, that we can't help you in order to avoid being prosecuted, in case you did use a pirated version. I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, it should be wise to consult with one, though.

  • This is hooey, the software could call home with your mac address, but there's no way to tie it to you unless your PC vendor has sold that info. So did their software also send your email program's contact list with your number in it? Shady practice. If it's a removable network interface (not onboard), just remove it, but don't worry. I don't condone piracy, and all the software I've bought in recent years has had merit - when will these companies understand that people will support and pay for well designed software? – user400344 Jan 21 '17 at 2:40
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To answer your questions:

(1) by itself a MAC address is useless because MAC addresses can be reprogrammed and are not public information; they are used on the local LAN. However, if the MAC address is combined with records from an ISP linking you to that MAC address, then it would be evidence. At a minimum the plaintiff would have to subpoena your ISP to get that information, and they cannot do that until they file a lawsuit.

(2) Can the company prove that it was me using the pirated version?

They don't have to. All they have to do is convince a jury that you have infringed.


Your question is way too vague. When dealing with the law it is very important to be specific and exact. WHO sent you the letter? WHAT company is it? WHAT did the letter say? Without knowing these things it is impossible to estimate the threat here. It could be anything from $1000 an hour lawyer who filing the lawsuit, to some guy in his basement who is just pretending to be a lawyer. Without knowing more it is not possible to know where you stand in this situation.

  • In your point (1) you make some legal arguments. I don't think that is wise when you don't even know the jurisdiction. – Anders Jan 22 '17 at 19:00
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Someone (like a network engineer, administrator, or technician), at any competent ISP likely has access to this kind of information (some (if not most of, or all) DHCP associated hostnames and MAC addresses), remotely. Particularly if you're using their hardware. Why? Because, it's in their best interest to know; it's their job. It's probably not in their best interest to expose your private; personal information, to anybody - other than yourself (including police, lawyers, journalists, etc.). And unless you've been under some kind of professional heavy surveillance, the case would have too many holes and likely fall apart, anyway.

I'm not a lawyer, so I won't tell you what to do. But frankly speaking; it sounds like somebody's βeta testing a phishing scam. Other than that: Unless someone produces a genuine, and official court warrant or subpoena (signed by a judge), I would assume it's a trap and walk around it.

Out of curiosity: Verify their contact details. Are they legitimate? Did you even do what you're accused of? Also, just check if the quoted hardware address(es) actually correspond(s) with any of your personal devices. It will be a hexadecimal string that looks something like: 1A:2B:3C:4D:5E:6F

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