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Internet provider wins $11B suit against spammer


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Yes, that's a B as in billion dollars.

Internet provider wins $11B suit against spammer

CLINTON, Iowa — A Clinton-based Internet service provider who successfully sued Internet spammers in the past now has been awarded an $11.2 billion judgment against a Florida man for sending millions of unsolicited e-mails advertising mortgage and debt consolidation services.

The judgment against James McCalla of Florida is the culmination of a multi-defendant lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in 2003 by Robert W. Kramer III, owner of CIS Internet Services in Clinton.

Handed down by U. S. District Judge Charles R. Wolle on Dec. 23, the judgment also prohibits McCalla from accessing the Internet for three years.

A representative of the business said Kramer would not comment beyond a news release sent Tuesday.

“I’m pleased with Judge Wolle’s ruling,” Kramer said in the release. “It’s a victory for every e-mail user and every responsible ISP. It’s proof our courts and Congress are committed to protecting the public.

“E-mail is an innovation like atomic energy or the automobile. In the beginning, the opportunity for misuse is obvious. For e-mail, that’s now changed,” he said. “This ruling sets a new standard. Gross abusers of e-mail risk exposure to public ridicule as well as the economic death penalty.”

The lawsuit claimed that McCalla sent more than 280 million illegal spam e-mail messages into CIS’s network. CIS Internet Services, which was started in 1996, provides Internet connections to areas around Bellevue, Clinton, Fort Madison, Low Moor, Maquoketa and West Point in Iowa and Albany, Fulton and Savanna in Illinois.

Kramer’s lawsuit initially named numerous defendants, many of whom were weeded out and dropped from the lawsuit over the past couple of years.

Other defendants named in the lawsuit, however, including Cash Link Systems of Florida, AMP Dollar Savings Inc. of Arizona, and TEI Marketing Group Inc. of Florida were ordered in 2004 to pay judgments totaling more than $1 billion to CIS Internet Services.

He claimed that under state law in effect at the time, he was entitled to $10 per illegal e-mail.

Kramer said then that he likely will not see any of the judgment money.

The lawsuit said the defendants “falsely and illegally represented that their e-mails originated from CIS or from some other user of the ‘cis.net’ domain.” The e-mails, the lawsuit states, used the “cis.net” domain as part of a falsified return address. By doing so, the defendants disguised the true source of the e-mails “to deflect the thousands of inevitable complaints from disgruntled recipients of the e-mails.”

Such e-mails included a work-at-home get-rich-quick scheme, illegal Internet gambling and a pornographic Web site, the lawsuit states.

Kramer’s company is one of many that have filed lawsuits against spammers over the past several years. AOL and Microsoft each have filed numerous lawsuits against spammers.

According to the Web site for the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, or CAUCE, large numbers of junk e-mails have knocked out or disrupted Internet provider systems belonging to large Internet providers such as AT&T, as well as systems belonging to smaller rural providers such as CIS. Additionally, the massive numbers of spam e-mails cost businesses and individuals millions of dollars each year.

John Mozena, co-founder and vice president of CAUCE, said Tuesday that the judgment against McCalla is the largest one he has heard.

“By a couple orders of magnitude,” he said. “And we’re happy Mr. Kramer is holding spammers accountable.”

But the spamming problem remains huge, he said.

“Large judgments have not discouraged spammers as a whole,” he said. “There have been regulatory actions and even criminal actions against spammers, but it has not made much of a dent in the total volume of spam we see. Spam is still roughly two-thirds of all e-mail on the Internet.”

He said sending unsolicited commercial e-mail is not illegal in the U.S.; it is only illegal to send dishonest spam, which includes forging a company’s domain name onto the e-mail or having a misleading subject line.

State courts that have taken up the issue have said free speech is not hindered by anti-spam laws since the courts are only dictating “the manner of speech and not the content of speech,” he added.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not taken an anti-spam case, he added.

“What we need is a federal anti-spam law, such as some countries such as Australia have,” he said. “Spamming is illegal in Australia.”

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