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Blocklist wins round in spam spat

SpamCop can keep tabs on the e-mail operations of a self-professed "Spam King"--it's protected by law, judge says.

A federal court in California has turned down a request to stop SpamCop from keeping tabs on mass e-mailer OptInRealBig, saying the blocklist operator is protected under the Communications Decency Act.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong denied a motion for a preliminary injunction against SpamCop brought by OptIn, which is attempting to sue the antispam company and its parent, IronPort Systems. OptIn maintains that SpamCop has interfered with its business by listing it publicly as a major source of spam and by causing Internet service providers to block its e-mail.

The dispute revolves around OptIn's inclusion on SpamCop's antispam blocklist, which third parties such as ISPs use to block bogus mail. SpamCop fields consumers' complaints about unwanted mail and its senders, and then lists the Internet Protocol addresses used to send those messages.

In addition, the company informs ISPs when one of their customers has been identified as a potential spammer. SpamCop alleges that it received close to 90,000 reports of spam emanating from OptIn during April 2004 alone.

In her ruling, Judge Armstrong found that since the Communications Decency Act (CDA) asserts that service providers cannot be held liable for publishing content generated by outside sources, SpamCop could not be held accountable for posting spam reports regarding OptIn.

Keith Valory, a general counsel for San Bruno, Calif.-based IronPort, said the company was "very pleased" with Armstrong's decision and praised the judge's interpretation of the CDA.

"We're encouraged that the judge ruled that SpamCop's service is immune from liabilities for publishing or distributing user complaints regarding spam under CDA," Valory said. "We think this significantly strengthens the company's position in this case and in the future."

Armstrong was openly criticized by industry watchers when she issued a temporary restraining order in May preventing SpamCop from interfering with messages sent by OptIn. However, the judge rescinded that order after only 12 hours, admitting that she had not reviewed SpamCop's opposition papers before granting the restraint.

OptIn, whose owner and president is self-professed "Spam King" Scott Richter, charges in its suit that SpamCop has aided violations of the Can-Spam Act by refusing to disclose the identity of people who complain about its e-mail. Armstrong has yet to rule on those claims directly.

Reached via telephone, Richter declined to comment directly on the SpamCop ruling, but said the suit was "not of great concern" to OptIn, compared with its ongoing legal battles against New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and software maker Microsoft, which are suing OptIn for distributing spam.

Richter's attorneys did not immediately respond to calls seeking further comment on the CDA ruling. Richter declined to comment on OptIn's plans for proceeding with the lawsuit.