Australian firm sues over spam complaint

A direct-marketing company strikes back after being blacklisted by a spam-prevention Web site, suing an individual whose complaints allegedly landed it on the junk e-mail list.

3 min read
An alleged Australian spammer is suing an anti-spam advocate after being blacklisted by a Web site that aims to prevent junk e-mail, in what is believed to be the first case of its kind.

Direct-marketing company T3 Direct is seeking compensation of $24,600 (AU$43,750) from Joseph McNichol, who it alleges caused the company to be blacklisted on the Spews.org Web site. While several blacklisted companies have struck back with lawsuits against anti-spam groups, this is apparently the first time an individual has been sued for complaining about alleged spam.

Blacklist sites distribute lists of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses online that are believed to be involved in spamming activities, enabling Internet service providers to block traffic from such addresses, which consist of a unique string of numbers that identifies someone's computer on the Internet.

IP addresses associated with Perth, Australia-based T3 are still listed on Spews.org; it is unclear when the addresses were added to the group's blacklist. Because other blacklist sites have been sued and shut down, SPEWS (Spam Prevention Early Warning System) does not list contact details. It is a nonprofit organization.

A writ of summons was filed against McNichol on May 24, upon receipt of which he was given 10 days to confirm his awareness of the charges. Nichols aired his view about T3 Direct's activities on his Web site.

"It's only the second spam-related lawsuit in Australia and the first of its kind worldwide," said Troy Rollo of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Bulk E-mail, who is in the midst of establishing a Web site where a legal defense fund will be set up for McNichol. "It's the first time someone has gone and sued someone else just for saying they are a spammer."

T3 is seeking loss and damages for replacing blocked or compromised IP numbers, labor costs of technicians to establish an alternative e-mail system, the purchase of a new server computer, and loss of income it claims to have incurred over a 20-day waiting period for a new Internet connection to be installed.

Jeremy Malcolm, an independent Perth-based solicitor who specializes in IT law and is representing McNichol, said he wouldn't be putting in a defense straight away and would be applying for a summary judgment in the hopes of not having to go to trial.

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Malcolm described the statement of claim against his client as a "fairly weak claim...brought about to intimidate a critic of T3 Direct."

"We will defend it as strongly as we can," he said.

T3's legal representatives, Perth-based Tan and Tan Solicitors, did not immediately return calls for comment.

Mark Reynolds, president of Western Australia Internet Association, says the group has received many complaints about T3 over the years. He said the case is the first of its kind he has heard of.

"It's the first time a known spam organization is suing an end user who made public complaints about receiving spam," he said

ZDNet Australia's Rachel Lebihan reported from Sydney.