Motorola Wins Spam Skirmish

Motorola Inc. not only got mad, it got even. The wireless manufacturer announced this morning it received a $100,000 default judgment against Paging America, which Motorola accused of bombarding consumers with fraudulent emails promising free Motorola pagers.

In May 2001 Motorola filed suit in U.S. District Court, alleging that Digital Wireless Technologies, conducting business as Paging America, was sending out unsolicited mass emails purporting to offer “free Motorola T-10 pagers.” Motorola alleged Paging America falsely claimed affiliation with Motorola, improperly used its trademarks, and offered pagers Motorola had not made. The suit sought $1 million in damages.

“They were either not shipping what was ordered or, if they did ship it, it was a Glenayre device,” Motorola spokeswoman Josephine Posti said. “I even got the email.” She said Motorola received “hundreds” of complaints from customers, spurring the company to take action.

In addition to the $100,000 award, the court ordered Paging America not to use Motorola trademarks, and to provide Motorola with a list all consumers who replied to the bogus emails. If Paging America breaks the terms of the judgment, it is subject to an automatic $100,000 fine for each violation.

Jason Catlett, president of anti-spam group Junkbusters.com, said more companies are fighting back against spammers, but many don’t bother. “There’s a lot of companies suffering a relatively small injury each, and few companies find it worth the effort to stop it,” he said.

“It was the extent, in that the amount of spam seemed to be egregious,” Motorola attorney David Carroll said of the company’s decision to pursue Paging America. “It’s also the fact that this attacked our goodwill and our brand name.”

This is not the first time Paging America’s spam tactics have landed it in court. In 1997, Japanese ISP Typhoon won a $2,500 judgment against Paging America’s owners for flooding AOL users with spam through Typhoon’s servers and using a Typhoon return address.

While spam is a problem now, it is expected to get worse. According to Jupiter Media Metrix research, the average American received 571 commercial emails in 2001. Jupiter forecasts that number will explode to 1,400 by 2006.

Most of the legal action against spammers has come from ISPs, who have pursued cases like the one Typhoon brought. AOL has aggressively fought spammers, including a case last month against Cyber Entertainment Network, which Catlett calls “the king of spam.”

On the national level, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently stepped up its efforts to combat fraudulent spam. In February, the FTC reached settlements with seven people involved in an email chain-letter scheme. The commission also sent out 2,000 warning letters to spammers still running the scam.

In Congress, Sen. Conrad Burns last night said an anti-spam bill would soon go the floor of the Senate for approval. The bill would beef up the enforcement authority of the FTC and state attorneys general. Burns said the anti-spam measure is tentatively slated for a May 16 vote in the Senate Commerce Committee.

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