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Hotmail stops spammers in court

The free email provider wins a preliminary injunction against eight spammers that forged its domain as a return address for mass emailing.

A California court has dealt yet another blow to junk emailers who use deceptive tactics to send out spam.

Siding with free email giant Hotmail--at least for now--the United States District Court in the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction against eight companies that had used the Hotmail name to send spam.

Hotmail, owned by Microsoft, in January sued the companies, claiming they misused Hotmail's name in their unsolicited mass emailings.

The practice of forging return email addresses is commonly used by people who send spam. The practice disguises the sender and also protects him or her from getting flooded with returned email and replies. Instead, the returned and bounced mail is sent to the forged email address, much in the same way undeliverable U.S. mail would be sent back to the return address.

Networks such as Hotmail that are commonly used as returned addresses end up being the recipients of massive amounts of email. But that is not the only thing that worries the companies--they also are concerned about how the practice affects their image.

Often Netizens see the return address and assume the company condones the mass emailing. Many spammers use popular addresses, such as Hotmail.com or aol.com, America Online's domain. In turn, those companies wind up having to fight a public relations battle to convince recipients that the junk email is not originating from their members. AOL has repeatedly taken spammers to court and won in cases similar to Hotmail's.

Though this is only a preliminary injunction, Hotmail executives said the ruling is important because it is the first in its region and it helps send a message that spamming will not be tolerated on Hotmail. It also gives another example of the court system backing ISPs and email providers on the issue of deceptive spam practices.

"What we're trying to do is establish a signpost out there," said Randy Delucchi, customer services director for Hotmail. "We want to send a real clear message that you're going to get caught, you're going to get in trouble, and you're not going to want to do it anymore."