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Judge backs AOL antispam efforts

In the online service's latest case, a federal court order bars Over the Air Equipment from sending any unsolicited email to AOL members.

A Virginia federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction in America Online's (AOL) suit against a Nevada-based company, which the online service claims spammed its members despite repeated requests to stop doing so.

The judge found that AOL's efforts to block junk email (also known as spam), including its efforts to obtain a court order against mass emailer Over the Air Equipment, were in the public interest. The court also said that there was a substantial likelihood that AOL would prevail in its claims of trespass and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act against the Las Vegas company.

The court order, which takes effect immediately, bars Over the Air Equipment from sending any unsolicited email to AOL members, according to AOL.

AOL's senior vice president and general counsel George Vradenburg considers the judge's ruling a big victory for his company and one that reinforces its efforts to stop junk emailers everywhere. "As we bring more suits and win more injunctions, we'll begin to change industry practice, which at the moment is harming our customers," he said.

The online service filed the suit earlier this month, claiming Over the Air Equipment used deceptive practices, including falsifying email transmission data, to avoid AOL's mail controls and to repeatedly transit vast quantities of unsolicited email to AOL members.

The junk email included a link to adult entertainment Web sites featuring "cyberstripper" offerings. To further confuse members, Over the Air Equipment allegedly copied an America Online trademark, fraudulently suggesting that its site had AOL approval, according to the suit.

Vradenburg said the federal judge likened Over the Air Equipment's practice to dropping seven pounds of junk mail on someone's front door, preventing the homeowner from going inside.

The lawsuit follows AOL rollout of Mail Control features that let members accept or block mail from specific Net addresses and domains. The new tools will replace AOL's PreferredMail option.

Earlier this month, the company filed another suit that attempts to block Kentucky-based spammer Prime Data Worldnet Systems and its proprietor, Vernon N. Hale, from sending spam to AOL members, according to AOL.

In February, a federal court ordered junk mailer Cyber Promotions to cease using unregistered domain addresses to send unwanted email to AOL members.

Vradenburg added the next step in the case is in the hands of Over the Air Equipment. "I don't know if they'll fight us or cave. We'll have to see."

A representative from the Nevada company said it has stopped sending unsolicited email but offered no other comment on the issue.