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MSN bears brunt of greeting card suit

A California judge orders Microsoft to use the front page of MSN to warn users that an antispam feature in its email software may discard e-greeting cards.

A California judge has ordered Microsoft to use the front page of its heavily trafficked portal site to warn users that an antispam feature in its email software may discard personal messages to a "junk mail" folder.

The order, made by Santa Clara County Superior Court judge Robert Baines, modified a previous ruling made in the same case, in which Boulder, Colorado-based Blue Mountain Arts claims that its online greeting card business is being undermined by a feature in the beta version of Microsoft's Outlook Express 5.0. Shortly after Microsoft entered the online greeting card space, Blue Mountain alleges, it added an antispam feature to the email software, causing messages generated by Blue Mountain to be placed in a junk mail folder.

Following the December 21 ruling requiring Microsoft to warn all Outlook Express users of the problem, Blue Mountain returned to court, complaining that the software giant had not posted the warning in the proper place. In a ruling issued Friday, Baines ordered Microsoft to place the warning on the front page of its heavily trafficked Microsoft Network.

Both rulings are temporary restraining orders, meaning they are in effect for only a few weeks. A hearing scheduled for January 28 will discuss whether the order should be in effect permanently while the case is pending.

Microsoft's filter "may relegate legitimate emails, such as electronic greeting cards from family or friends, to the junk mail folder," the language warns. Baines, however, denied Blue Mountain's request to impose sanctions on Microsoft, finding that any violation of the earlier order was unintentional.

Blue Mountain filed suit in mid-December, alleging that the antispam feature was a deliberate attempt to foil the fledgling greeting card company. Microsoft responded that the filter did not seek out email sent by a particular company and said even greeting cards sent by Microsoft were vulnerable to the problem.