October 24, 1996 2:45 PM PDT

ISP wins round against junk mailer

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A federal judge has issued an order stopping Cyber Promotions from sending junk email using a CompuServe return address, the online service said today.

The order stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the second-largest online service, the latest of a number of legal actions taken by online services and Internet service providers against Cyber Promotions and its president, Sanford Wallace. Cyber Promotions, responsible for sending out mass junk email, known as spams, has developed a reputation as the bad boy of the Internet.

Prodigy sued Cyber Promotions on Friday, and Concentric Network filed suit earlier this month. The three networks join America Online, which has been waging a legal battle to stop Cyber Promotions from sending email to its members.

Online services contend that electronic mail, unlike junk mail received through the U.S. Postal Service, can cost recipients money because users often pay companies hourly fees to go online, including the time it takes to download and read email. It also costs Internet service providers money because it jams up their systems.

But Wallace says he has done nothing to violate the law and contends that he is being picked on by the online giants. "There's a form of conspiracy to put us out of business," he said.

Wallace also said that Cyber Promotions' ISP, Sprint, cut off its service Friday and that Cyber filed a lawsuit in return.

A Sprint spokesman confirmed that "Sprint did, in fact, disconnect Cyber Promotions' Internet service on October 18," but would not elaborate. "It's corporate policy that we do not comment on any pending litigation."

CompuServe, Prodigy, and Concentric all claimed that Cyber Promotions was clogging their services with undeliverable mail. In Concentric's case, a federal judge in Northern California ordered Wallace and Cyber Promotions to stop using Concentric either to send or receive mail.

Both CompuServe and Prodigy are claiming that Cyber Promotions violated their copyrights by sending out email with return addresses from their services.

In the restraining order issued yesterday in a United States District Court in Ohio, CompuServe claimed that Cyber Promotions had sent email to the service's members on October 17, "falsely identifying themselves to other computers as being owned and operated by CompuServe."

The Prodigy suit also relates to "Cyber Promotions' use of the Prodigy name to deliver spam," said Mike Darcy, spokesman for the online service.

Wallace acknowledged the CompuServe charge. "We configured the headers to make sure all returned mail was delivered to our CompuServe account." He admits doing the same with the other two ISPs, but Wallace denied that the email was falsely identified. "It's very clear as to where the email comes from," he said.

Wallace added that he had used the accounts to bypass America Online's block on any email sent by Cyber Promotions to AOL's members. "We had done so to deliver mail to America Online."

CompuServe, in the restraining order, said Wallace's system jammed up its system with undeliverable email because it was all returned to the one CompuServe account. The mail, according to the restraining order, stayed on CompuServe's system "rather than returning to defendant's computers which sent them."

"They're sending mail to our members and not identifying them as being from them," said Gail Whitcomb, a spokeswoman for CompuServe. "We've gotten a lot of member complaints."

Whitcomb added that CompuServe decided against using AOL's strategy of trying to completely block spam from Cyber Promotions, a battle currently wending its way through the legal system. AOL today introduced PreferredMail, a tool that allows members to screen out junk email, which it calls "a major source of complaints from online users."

"AOL got into a bit of a legal jam," Whitcomb said. "This particular restraining order does not address First Amendment rights."

But, she added, "we will probably pursue this further in the courts somewhere down the road."

 

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