OptInRealBig Wins TRO Against SpamCop

Mass emailer OptInRealBig.com, which is suing anti-spam service SpamCop, won an order blocking SpamCop from sending complaints about it to ISPs other than its own. SpamCop is also barred from stripping the complainers’ email addresses from complaints about OptIn.

The temporary restraining order (TRO) against SpamCop, whose parent is IronPort Systems, will be in effect through May 20. On that date, IronPort is to appear before the United States District Court for the Northern District of California to show why the restraints should not continue throughout the legal action.

IronPort was “surprised” by the TRO, according to a spokeswoman for the company. The spokeswoman said the company was “confident” the judge would reconsider.

IronPort did not file an opposition to OptIn’s motion for a TRO, which OptIn filed May 4. The court reviewed the papers and issued its ruling on OptIn’s motion May 10 without a hearing. IronPort has not yet filed an answer to OptIn’s original complaint.

OptInRealBig filed suit in April against SpamCop and parent IronPort, alleging that SpamCop interfered with OptInRealBig’s contracts and business relationships, defamed the company and damaged potential future earnings. The complaint also sought a TRO, a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction blocking SpamCop from making slanderous or libelous statements about it and a minimum of $150,000 in damages.

As part of its spam-reporting services, SpamCop notifies ISPs’ abuse desks of email that has been submitted by users as spam. Every ISP tracked in the reported spam’s headers is notified, with the email addresses of complaining users withheld. OptInRealBig’s TRO restrains SpamCop from withholding the email addresses of users who complain about OptIn’s emails and from forwarding complaints about OptIn to any ISPs except OptInRealBig’s own ISP.

“The TRO is not a big deal, but everyone will think it is,” said attorney Anne Mitchell, president and CEO of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy. “The purpose of a TRO is to either maintain or restore a status quo. In this case it’s a very short period of time.”

SpamCop, formerly a one-man operation, was acquired by IronPort Systems in November 2003, making it a much more attractive lawsuit target. Just prior to making the SpamCop acquisition, IronPort received $29 million in a round of venture capital financing.

Scott Richter, OptInRealBig’s president, is himself the subject of an anti-spam lawsuitjointly filed in December by New York’s Attorney General and Microsoft.

One important issue, Mitchell said, is what IronPort will do to notify its customers of the TRO. “It says SpamCop can’t make the complainers’ information anonymous. There is an expectation on the part of people who submit complaints to SpamCop that their email addresses will not be used. But I have not seen a notice on the IronPort site.”

IronPort could not be reached for a response by press time.

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