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Major ISPs Launch Spam Lawsuit Under New Law

Four of the largest e-mail and Internet Service Provider companies in the United States this week launched the first major industry lawsuits under the new federal anti-spam law.

AOL, EarthLink, Microsoft and Yahoo! jointly announced six lawsuits against hundreds of defendants under the CAN-SPAM Act. Officially called the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, the CAN-SPAM law went into effect on Jan. 1. The four companies, meanwhile, have been officially working together on fighting spam since forming an anti-spam alliance in April 2003.

The CAN-SPAM law criminalizes tactics spammers use to spread junk e-mail including deceptive solicitations, use of open proxies, falsified "from" e-mail addresses, absence of physical addresses in the e-mail and absence of electronic unsubscribe options in the e-mail.

Each of the four complainant companies filed lawsuits in California, Georgia, Virginia and Washington states.

"Congress gave us the necessary tools to pursue spammers with stiff penalties, and we in the industry didn't waste a moment," AOL executive vice president and general counsel Randall Boe said in a statement.

Some industry observers applauded the moves but cautioned users not to expect dramatic results from the legal actions or the CAN-SPAM Act alone.

"This is definitely a step in the right direction and demonstrates that ISPs are willing to take legal action to protect their customers and networks," said Mark Sunner, chief technology officer of MessageLabs, an e-mail security services provider. But according to MessageLabs, spam has continued to increase since CAN-SPAM's passage and spam now accounts for 64 percent of e-mail traffic.

"If these suits prove successful, they will mostly likely act as a deterrent for the less technically sophisticated spammers who are unable to take steps to cover their tracks, such as those using open proxies. It remains to be seen how many spammers go legit or move their operations offshore," Sunner said. "We continue to believe that laws and lawsuits are tactics in the war against spam but not silver bullets."

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.