Big Four ISPs File First Major Can Spam Suits

Giant ISPs America Online, EarthLink , Microsoft , and Yahoo have made a coordinated filing of the first major industry lawsuits under the recently enacted federal Can Spam act

The four, members of an anti-spam industry alliance formed in April 2003, filed six lawsuits against what they say are hundreds of the country’s most egregious spammers. Company executives announced the suits at a press conference in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.

The plaintiffs filed complaints in federal courts in California, Georgia, Virginia and Washington state charging the defendants with sending hundreds of millions of spam email to customers of the four companies.

Named in the suits were: Davis Wolfgang Hawke, also known as Dave Bridger; Braden Bournival; JDO Media; the Super Viagra Group; along with Eric Head, Matthew Head, and their companies Gold Disk Canada, Head Programming, and Infinite Technologies Worldwide. More than a hundred John Doe defendants are accused of spamming, as well.

The allegations included deceptive soliciting for the only-too-well-known prescription drugs, pornography and the like, sending spam through third-party computers, falsified “from” email addresses, absence of a physical address in the message and absence of an unsubscribe option, all of which are prohibited by the Can Spam act.

The six lawsuits all ask for injunctions barring the alleged spammers from sending any more spam or hijacking the plaintiffs’ computers and systems to do so, plus unspecified monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.

“We can get money judgments against them, we can get injunctions against them barring them from sending spam and under the Can Spam act we can seek specific monetary damage per each email, ” said Dave Baker, VP law and public policy at EarthLink. “That would put them out of business. The court order that bars them from sending email puts them out of business.”

All of the company executives stressed the importance of a combination of cooperation between the major players, legislation, technology and enforcement.

Asked if the alliance was going after the companies whose goods were being sold, as well as the spammers who were promoting them, the group said it was “following the money and going up the chain.”

“Following the money is a useful investigative technique. We talked about how difficult it is to do the technological tracing of the [spammers]. It’s not so hard to trace money. The money will show us where people are and what they’re doing,” said Microsoft Deputy General Counsel Nancy Anderson.

Of course it might be difficult to identify and prosecute the companies whose goods were advertised in the spam, EarthLink’s Baker said, because information promoted in spam messages is often false and there might or might not be a real product.

This action comes on the heels of the filing of the first lawsuit under Can Spam on March 5, by a California ISP naming as the defendant.

The major ISPs have filed dozens of lawsuits over the last two years against spammers, but this represents the first time the Can Spam act has been invoked by the big players.

To give an idea of the magnitude of the spam problem, according to papers filed in an earlier, non-Can Spam suit, AOL’s email system currently receives nearly 2 billion email messages a day. AOL claims its email filters currently block a whopping 1 billion messages per day, a figure they claim in the lawsuit is 10 times higher than the average daily spam volume back in 1999 when they installed the filters.

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