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AOL throws the book at spammers

In the latest chapter of its crusade against unsolicited bulk email, the online giant wins lawsuits against three spammers and files nine more.

In the latest chapter of its crusade against unsolicited bulk email, America Online today said it has won lawsuits against three spammers and it has filed nine more suits in five states.

Today's announcement marks AOL's latest crackdown on companies that send mass emails peddling pornography, snake-oil medical treatments, or fraudulent products to members of its proprietary service.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ordered LCGM, a Madison, Wisconsin-based spammer in the business of advertising pornographic Web sites, to pay AOL an undisclosed amount for damages and attorney fees.

The court ruled that LCGM violated trademark laws by using the domain name in its email, and that it violated federal and state computer fraud laws by trying to penetrate AOL's antispam filtering software. The online giant praised the ruling, the first in which a court applied computer fraud laws to an antispam case.

The same federal court also awarded AOL a permanent injunction against Prime Data Systems of Bowling Green, Kentucky, stopping the company from sending any more emails to AOL members. The spammer also was ordered to pay legal fees.

IMS, the third spammer to fall under the weight of AOL's legal team, also lost in the same court, which ruled that the company committed copyright infringement with its use of the domain.

In addition, the court ordered two individual spammers affiliated with IMS to pay AOL damages for their role in advertising a "dubious 'credit repair' scheme," and selling spam software called "Floodgate," according to an AOL statement.

"[Using the trademark in their email] falsely suggests that we at AOL are somehow sponsoring or condoning these sponsors to use our network, and that's something that we are not tolerating," said Randall Boe, associate general counsel at AOL "We think [the rulings are] significant because [they represent] our continued commitment to fighting spam."

Spam has been, and still is, one of the most controversial phenomena to emerge alongside the Internet. It has sparked considerable debate both online and off, pitting aggressive direct marketers against vocal privacy and consumer advocates.

Traditionally, AOL has toed a fine line when it comes to spam. In the past the online giant has defined spam as any unsolicited email offer sent over its network by a company with which it does not have an established business relationship. While AOL has said it rarely, if ever, sends email promotions to its members, the company acknowledged that it has the ability to use email to promote its third-party partnerships.

By default, AOL users agree to be sent mass emailings from the online service and its partners, though they have the option of clicking a box that turns off the default setting. But AOL members--many of whom are new to the Web--often are unaware that such an option exists and don't realize how much their choice will affect their experience with the service.

Boe, however, argued that AOL's policy is clear to all its users. "AOL does not engage in sending unsolicited mail, and we're not looking to get in any business relationships with partners who do," he said.

On the heels of its threepeat antispam victories, AOL announced today that it has filed similar lawsuits against nine spammers in Virginia, Iowa, Florida, California, and New York:

•  AOL takes on Power Promo and Mr. Forrest Dayton for "prolific" spamming of its members, and selling software to circumvent antispam filters.

• AOL also takes action against GreatDeal.Net for spamming AOL members.

• AOL takes on Virtual Girlfriend for peddling a fraudulent software package and being associated with other of fraudulent email offers sent to AOL members.

• AOL also takes action against Michael Persaud, alleging that Persaud sent millions of emails to AOL members under false names--even after receiving a cease and desist order.

• AOL files suit against USA Home Employment for continuing to peddle its "get rich quick" schemes despite being issued a cease and desist request from AOL.

• AOL takes on National Health Care Discounts, alleging that the company used spammers to generate sales leads.

• AOL takes action against Global Marketing Solutions for spamming AOL members and attempting to circumvent AOL's antispam filters.

• AOL also takes on First Class Advertising for spamming AOL members and attempting to circumvent AOL's antispam filters.

New York
• AOL files suit against the Christian Brothers, alleging that they spammed members trying to sell apricot seeds as a "miracle" cure for cancer and used the domain name to give the impression that the products were affiliated with AOL.