Remember When the Trial Subscription Was Really a Trial?

Yes, the rumors are true.  I missed the deadline to cancel a free 7-day trial subscription of a streaming channel for a smart TV.  The particular channel is not important. I assure you, it was something educational.

I was not that late.  The evening of the deadline, I had been busy cleaning the coffee pot, and had become so absorbed in my work that I lost track of time.  And when I was done, I realized, Oh, I had better cancel that streaming channel.  And it was just about ten or at the most fifteen minutes past midnight.

White text on blue background that says "FREE FOR 7 DAYS"

I already had an email from the channel, containing a receipt for my payment.  I called up the channel to request a cancelation and removal of the charge.

“I’m sorry, I cannot remove the charge,” said the billing clerk.

“Surely there is some exception,” I pleaded, “some special procedure, some authority with the power to take off the charge.  Please!  My payment for Misfit Fruit is due this month and I need to make sure I have enough to cover it.”

“I’m sorry, sir.  All sales are final.  Except – “

“Yes….?”

“Except there is this process where you can request a trial.”

“Really?  A trial?”

“Yes, but I have to warn you, we don’t get very many people using the trial procedure.  Are you sure you do not want to simply pay the charge.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but in the warrior’s code, there’s no surrender.”

The trial of Streaming Channel v. Myself took place three days later.  Of course it was via Zoom video chat to maintain social distancing, and once again I had trouble with the background.  Fortunately, under the Zoom Court’s rules, the jury is sequestered until all Zoom background issues are resolved.  

As the first belligerent in the matter, the Streaming Channel put its case on first.  It called the billing clerk as a witness.

“And how are customers billed?” asked the lawyer for the Streaming Channel.

“On the first of every month, the bill goes out.  It is automatic.”  

“And what would have happened if the customer had canceled on time?”

“Then the customer’s name would have been taken off the billing list.”

On cross-examination, I asked the billing clerk if there was any empathy at the Streaming Channel for someone who was only ten or at the most fifteen minutes late with canceling the streaming service.  

“I’m sorry, I don’t have the answer for that,” said the clerk, “but if you visit our website, you’ll find a place where you can chat with one of our customer service representatives.”

The trial was then turned over to me.  First, I put my neighbor on the stand, who testified that in 25 years of living next to me he has never known me to be late in canceling anything, including a streaming television service.  It was brilliant testimony.  It should have ended the case right there.  Unfortunately, on cross-examination my neighbor was compelled to discuss our plum tree dispute from several years back, and the implied conflict of interest undermined his credibility.

Then I called a freelance technician who testified that the time stamp of the channel was not accurate.  Unfortunately, on cross-examination, the channel proved that my witness technician had an unusually high number of returns via Amazon, strongly suggesting that he ordered things just to use them once with no intention of keeping them.  I let myself have a glance at the jury – something they tell you not to do – and on their faces read nothing favorable to my side.

Finally I testified in my own behalf.  I told of my struggles at remembering to cancel free trial versions of things.  How growing up, my parents worked with me late into the night at remembering to cancel free services.  How I had forgotten to cancel a free compact disc service (remember those?) and how the experience had made me rethink my entire approach towards free services – that the service was never really free, that it was the work of thousands of unnamed and unthanked individuals who perform their jobs with diligence and dignity, and all they ask in return is that I notify them of my intent to cancel by the deadline, usually 7 or 14 days from the day you sign up.

The jury was in tears.  Deliberations lasted all of 10 minutes.  They returned a verdict of “no liability” meaning the charge would be removed, and I wouldn’t have to pay anything, and I even got a new trial subscription that I just had to cancel by the deadline.

The channel’s attorney congratulated me on my win; a professional to the end.  I held an impromptu press conference on the courthouse steps, where I thanked my legal team, expressed gratitude that justice prevailed, and closed on a message of hope. 

“My hope is that one day such efforts – such trials – will be unnecessary and people who are only 10 or at the most 15 minutes late in canceling a streaming channel can avoid a charge without having their lives tossed about.”

My finest memory of that day shall be the faces of the children in the audience, who saw at last that the system can be trusted, but that you should still remember to cancel the free trial by the deadline.

Mark Kaplowitz

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