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Court lets AOL block email

A panel of federal judges gives America Online the right to resume blocking so-called junk email, the latest volley in an ongoing dispute.

A panel of federal judges today gave America Online the right to resume blocking what it calls ubiquitous mass emailings, the latest volley in an ongoing legal dispute.

In a ruling by the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, a three-judge panel lifted a preliminary injunction that had been issued against AOL. The injunction had prevented AOL from blocking junk email from three sites.

AOL attorney David Phillips characterized the ruling as "a victory in one battle in a continuing war."

The world's largest online service announced September 5 that it had blocked email to its members coming from five sites. The next day, U.S. District Judge Charles Weiner ordered AOL to lift the ban against Cyber Promotions, which runs three sites, pending a November 12 trial.

The ruling, which does not apply to the other two sites, was based on procedural grounds, according to Phillips. The judges ruled that the injunction was in error because Judge Weiner "didn't follow the preliminary injunction standard," Phillips said. "We're pleased that the stay has been vacated."

He added that AOL has no plans to reinstate those blocks. Instead, it is beefing up its email system to allow members to institute their own personal blocks.

"We always thought that the server block was an action of last resort," Phillips said. But, he added, "we took the action because of a flood of complaints from our members who found the volume of email from Cyber Promotions and others to be intolerable."