Europe Fights Spam with Habeas and Poetry

Fighting the good fight, anti-spam crusaders Habeas, Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif.-based developer of a poetry-inspired campaign to block spammers from congesting worldwide email inboxes, won its first European contract this week with Amsterdam-based Internet service provider (ISP) Villa Hosting.

With poetry in their hearts, the law at their backsides, and a nice chunk of venture capital money in their pockets, Habeas founders developed a patent-pending service that works by trademarking and copyrighting email warrant marks, which are embedded in the headers of outgoing email.

Included in this warrant mark is a copyrighted haiku poem, a style of Japanese poetry, that was scribed by the company’s founder. When the header is used improperly or is illegally downloaded from their site, Habeas is then entitled to sue or prosecute the offender because their warrant mark and poetry is protected under international trademark and copyright law.

With the company’s launch just three weeks behind them, the twenty-person staff at Habeas makes it bread-and-butter off licensing fees from marketing companies and corporations who send out huge amounts of email to end users. While those email campaigns are generally consensual, often times bulk, opt-in emailings get flagged by anti-spam programs and the marketing companies and customers both lose out.

According to company spokesperson Lonn Johnston, the Habeas email header provides a mark of authenticity that is identified by the spam filter and let through.

The Habeas mark also provides assurance of fair direct mail proceedings, since the Habeas licensing agreement insists that its customers abide by certain rules of conduct with their email communication and that they are only sending out information that has been requested.

“One of the great things is that we work well with existing spam solutions that are already out there,” said Johnston, referring to Habeas’ compatibility with widely used spam filtering solutions such as SpamAssassin, SpamCure, and SpamRepellant. “And we make sure the mail people want is delivered.”

But if the Habeas mark is used illegally, beware. The company can seek penalties against a spammer for upwards of $1 million per infraction, and in some cases pursue criminal prosecution.

Habeas retains D&B, formerly Dun & Bradstreet, as its collection agency against infringing mailers.

“Habeas is a powerful weapon in the war against spammers because, just like spam, it recognizes no international borders,” said Anne Mitchell, president and CEO of Habeas and former legal affairs director for the Mail Abuse Prevention System.

“We can use existing international copyright and trademark law to put spammers out of business while protecting legitimate senders of mail around the world,” said Mitchell. “Habeas is working now with major customers on three continents, a demonstration of our momentum and the market acceptance of our approach to stopping spam.”

Villa Hosting, a Habeas newcomer, has adopted the ’Habeas Sender Warranted Email’ service to beef up its battle against spammers in the Netherlands and Belgium. The popular ISP specializes in anti-virus and anti-spam hosting and had been using software filtering for years before joining Habeas.

“But we noticed that our filters have increasingly screened opt-in mail and legitimate commercial mail captured by mistake because they shared some characteristics of spam. said John Caspers, CEO of Villa Hosting. “Habeas gives us an effective tool to distinguish legitimate mail from spam.”

Villa Hosting has already deployed the Habeas service to one of its clients, EuropePR, a mailing house that distributes electronic press releases to European journalists.

Habeas’ advisory board is made up of law and technology experts, including John Levine, the author of “Internet for Dummies,” anti-spam attorney Michael Grow, Internet Mail Consortium founder Paul Hoffman, and representatives from Earthlink and Microsoft.

Habeas counts Microsoft’s WebTV as one of its best-known customers, along with Hong Kong-based Outblaze, an outsourcing company for email providers such as Chinadotcom Corp., Lycos Asia, Mail.com, Telekom Malaysia, and Sanrio Corp.

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