America Online, EarthLink, Microsoft, and Yahoo, the four largest U.S. Internet service providers, last week filed six federal lawsuits in four states against hundreds of spammers. Those being sued account for hundreds of millions of spam messages and are among the worst spammers on the Internet, Randall Boe, AOL's executive VP and general counsel, said at a joint news conference in Washington. The suits, filed in California, Georgia, Virginia, and Washington, are the first major industry lawsuits filed since the passage of the federal Can-Spam Act of 2003, which took effect on Jan. 1. Boe said he expects more lawsuits will follow. The four companies entered into an anti-spam alliance in April.
"Spam is in danger of destroying one of the most important communications tools we have," Les Seagraves, EarthLink's VP, chief privacy officer, and assistant general counsel, said at the news conference. "This alliance is committed to making sure that that doesn't happen."
Bringing all of the defendants to justice may prove a challenge. Microsoft's lawsuit against "Super Viagra Group," for example, accuses John Does 1 through 50 of spamming through domains traced to Argentina, India, Lithuania, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey.
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But specific individuals are named in some of the suits. Yahoo corporate general counsel Matt Robinson says his company is suing three known individuals based in Canada-Eric Head, Matthew Head, and Barry Head-for sending some 300 million messages in January alone. "We want to hold these people accountable," Robinson says.
Paul Judge, chief technology officer at E-mail security vendor CipherTrust Inc., sees the alliance's action as a warning shot to the world. "These ISPs have proved that spammers should take Can-Spam seriously," he says.
Until now, the Can-Spam Act has been seen as largely ineffective. A number of anti-spam companies have reported an increase in the amount of spam since the passage of the law. Judge says spam comprised 68% of business E-mail in January; today, it's 79%.