March 10, 2004 10:14 AM PST

Major ISPs unite in spam fight

America Online, Microsoft, EarthLink and Yahoo have teamed up to file the first major industry lawsuits under the new federal antispam law.

Citing the Can-Spam Act, the companies filed the combined six lawsuits against hundreds of defendants in federal courts in California, Georgia, Virginia and Washington state. The complaints charge the defendants with sending hundreds of millions of bulk e-mail messages to customers of the four networks.

In the complaints, the companies claim that the accused spammers have sent deceptive solicitations for a variety of products, including get-rich-quick schemes, prescription drugs, pornography, instructions for conducting spam campaigns, banned CDs, mortgage loans, university diplomas, cable descramblers and other common types of unsolicited e-mail.

They also claim that the defendants have used open proxies, which send spam through third-party computers to disguise their point of origin, and used false "from" e-mail addresses. They claim the e-mails were sent without physical addresses. And the messages failed to include an electronic unsubscribe option. Each allegation is a violation of the Can-Spam law.

U.S. Senators Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who wrote the Can-Spam Act, applauded the lawsuits.

"Today?s filing proves that the days of spamming with impunity are finally over," Wyden said in a statement. "These suits will have to be settled in a court of law, but I believe this action marks the dawn of a new day for spammers--one in which they face real accountability."

Can-Spam was passed in late 2003 to help regulate spam by threatening various forms of punishment, including possible prison sentences, against individuals and companies responsible for sending unsolicited e-mail. The law does not give individuals the right to sue. Only Internet service providers and government officials can file suit.

These are not the first suits to be filed. Earlier this month, Internet service provider Hypertouch filed a lawsuit in California, accusing BVWebTies, the company that owns and operates BobVila.com, and one of its partners, BlueStream Media, of breaching guidelines of the Can-Spam Act.

So far, the Can-Spam law has done little to discourage spammers. A study released in February found that only 3 percent of bulk commercial e-mail included a valid U.S. postal mail address for the sender and a link to opt out of future messages, as required by the federal mandate.

 

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