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Judge stops Brit from selling Hotmail lists

Microsoft wins case after arguing that a U.K. man selling e-mail addresses to spammers had hurt the company's goodwill as Hotmail's owner.

Microsoft has stopped a U.K. man from selling lists of e-mail addresses that were then being used by spammers.

The technology giant took to court Paul Martin McDonald, who through his company Bizads sold e-mail addresses that were then used as spam lists. Microsoft sought and was granted a summary judgment against McDonald, arguing that his actions had caused Microsoft to suffer loss and damage to the goodwill it enjoyed as owner of the Web-based e-mail service Hotmail.

The judge agreed with Microsoft that Bizads had breached the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), a U.K. law that includes regulations designed to halt the sending of unsolicited e-mail.

"The evidence plainly established that the business of Bizads was supplying e-mail lists of persons who had not consented to receive direct marketing mail and that it had encouraged purchasers of the lists to send e-mails to those people," the judge said.

The judge ruled that Microsoft had suffered a loss as a result of the breach of the PECR and was entitled to compensation and an injunction restraining McDonald from instigating the transmission of commercial e-mails to Hotmail accounts.

IT law expert Struan Robertson called the ruling a "good result in the battle against spam." Robertson, who is a senior associate at Pinsent Masons solicitors, said the result is interesting as it is one of the first times PECR has been used to stop someone selling lists for spam.

According to Robertson, the court rejected a claim that the people on the lists had consented to receiving spam, due to their complaints.

"People making complaints indicates they hadn't consented," said Robertson. PECR covers unsolicited e-mail.

"It's interesting that Paul McDonald didn't send the spam himself; he just sold the lists," Robertson said. "But the court was able to characterize selling the lists as instigation of spam."

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.