Spam fighter hit with $11.7 million judgment

Nonprofit behind antispam blacklist is hit with multimillion-dollar judgment, but the order may not be enforceable.

The nonprofit group behind a popular blacklist used to block spam has been hit with a multimillion-dollar judgment, but the order may not be enforceable.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ordered Wednesday that Spamhaus must pay $11,715,000 in damages to e360insight and its chief, David Linhardt, who sued the U.K.-based organization earlier this year over blacklisting.

The court also barred Spamhaus from causing any e-mail sent by e360insight or Linhardt to be "blocked, delayed, altered, or interrupted in anyway" and ordered Spamhaus to publish an apology stating that Linhardt and his company are not spammers, according to a copy of the order.

"This ruling confirms e360insight's position that Spamhaus.org is a fanatical, vigilante organization that operates in the United States with blatant disregard for U.S. law," Linhardt wrote in an e-mail to CNET News.com on Thursday.

Spamhaus appears unfazed by the ruling. In a statement on its Web site, Spamhaus dismissed the judgment as invalid and charges that the court was "bamboozled by spammers." Spamhaus didn't mount a defense in the case; the ruling was a default judgment in absence of counterarguments.

"Default judgments obtained in U.S. county, state or federal courts have no validity in the U.K. and cannot be enforced under the British legal system," Spamhaus said on its Web site. "As spamming is illegal in the U.K., an Illinois court ordering a British organization to stop blocking incoming Illinois spam in Britain goes contrary to U.K. law which orders all spammers to cease sending spam in the first place."

Linhardt and his company are indeed spammers and remain on the Spamhaus blocklist, Spamhaus said. Posting a note that e360insignt was inaccurately labeled as a spammer would be a lie, Spamhaus said. If Linhardt wants a ruling that counts, he needs to refile his case in the U.K., according to Spamhaus.

The Spamhaus blocklist is a database of verified spam sources that is supplied at no cost to help e-mail administrators clean incoming e-mail streams. Spam accounts for about 75 percent of all e-mail, and the Spamhaus list is one of the most popular such blacklists to help cleanse e-mail.

"The Spamhaus guys are good guys, and they are doing the right thing. It is a pity that the court system in the U.S. can be abused in such a fashion as it is," said Dean Drako, the CEO of Barracuda Networks, a Mountain View, Calif.-based maker of antispam appliances. Barracuda offers the Spamhaus list in its appliances.

Spammers often threaten with lawsuits, but don't often follow through, Drako said. Senders of the junk mail fight blacklists because they hurt business.

"If a spammer gets listed, less spam gets through, and their revenue is related to the amount of spam that gets read," Drako said.

Like Spamhaus, Drako does not expect the Illinois judgment to have any effect in the fight against spam.

"I don't think the lawsuit actually means anything," he said.

 

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