| Representatives of four major Internet companies, (from left) Randy Boe of America Online, Les Seagraves of Earthlink, Nancy Anderson of Microsoft and Mike Callahan of Yahoo!, at a press conference in Washington. (Reuters)
Washington, March 11: In a court action that holds out hope for millions of Internet users deluged by unwelcome e-mails, four major Internet companies have sued hundreds of people suspected of sending junk messages or spam.
Microsoft, America Online, Earthlink and Yahoo! filed the cases in federal courts in California, Georgia, Virginia and Washington state and hope to close down spammers under America’s new Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act that went into effect at the beginning of this year.
Senders of junk mail offer e-mail addressees everything from weight loss plans and sex videos to recipes for enlargement of body parts and low interest loans. Their nuisance value is so great that it is estimated that almost 60 per cent of all e-mails clogging the Internet is made up of spam.
America Online’s general counsel, Randall Boe, warned at a joint press conference addressed by representatives of all four plaintiffs that “we are going to locate you and we are going to sue you.” The four companies had formed a consortium last year to fight spammers and agree on a common standard for electronically identifying junk mail.
They have also sued alleged spammers, largely unsuccessfully, but the new “can-spam” law has made legal action easier.
The suits filed this week mostly identifies defendants as “John Doe.” This means further investigation is to be undertaken to verify identities of owners and operators of spamming firms.
Les Seagraves, assistant general counsel of Earthlink, claimed “we are only a couple of subpoenas away from standing at someone’s door and handing them a summons.”
Such hope springs from the recording industry’s successful experience in identifying copyright infringement by Internet users downloading music and tracing Internet addresses of subscribers.
Typical of the profiles of those being sued are Eric Daniel Head, Matthew Head and Barry Head, from Ontario, Canada, who are identified in court documents by Yahoo!.
The Heads run Golddisk.net and at least four other companies and are accused by Yahoo! of sending 94 million junk e-mails this year alone. When reporters tried to reach the defendants yesterday, five telephone numbers listed in the lawsuit were either found to have been either disconnected or allotted to new, unsuspecting customers by telephone companies.
A study by the EU claimed that spam now costs Internet subscribers worldwide about $12.4 billion a year, calculated, among other things, because of hours lost deleting such messages from e-mail inboxes.
It is estimated that Internet companies would have to spend an additional $198 billion to handle spam if the lawsuits fail and nothing is done by 2007. It is also estimated that about half the spam received in the US comes from Asia or Europe.