America Online Inc. , EarthLink Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo! Inc. today jointly announced that their collaborative anti-spam industry efforts have resulted in the coordinated filing of the first major industry lawsuits under the new federal anti-spam law, the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003, which went into effect Jan. 1.

The country’s four leading e-mail and Internet service providers announced the combined filing of six lawsuits against hundreds of defendants, including some of the nation’s most notorious large-scale spammers. The lawsuits were announced by senior executives of the companies at a joint press conference at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington.

New Federal Anti-Spam Law

The CAN-SPAM law provides strong new enforcement tools for e-mail and Internet service providers and law enforcement, and criminalizes specific tactics spammers use to spread junk e-mail. The law, which was supported by the four companies, allows for harsh new penalties against large-scale spammers that use fraud, deceit and evasion to try to send junk e-mail to consumers.

Each of the four companies last night filed legal complaints in federal courts in California, Georgia, Virginia and Washington state. The complaints charge the defendants with sending a combined total of hundreds of millions of bulk spam e-mail messages to customers of the four networks. Some of the common allegations described in the complaints include these:

—Deceptive solicitations for a variety of products including
get-rich-quick schemes, prescription drugs, pornography, instructions
for conducting spam campaigns, banned CDs, mortgage loans, university
diplomas, cable descramblers and other common types of unsolicited
—Use of open proxies (sending spam through third-party computers to
disguise their point of origin)
—Falsified “from” e-mail addresses (spoofing)
—Absence of a physical address in the e-mail
—Absence of an electronic unsubscribe option

Each allegation is a direct violation of the CAN-SPAM law. A summary of each filing is included below. More detailed information about each case can be found on each complainant’s Web site.


“Today is a red-letter day for big-time spammers, and the letters they should remember from this day forward are ‘CAN- SPAM,’” said AOL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Randall Boe. “Congress gave us the necessary tools to pursue spammers with stiff penalties, and we in the industry didn’t waste a moment—moving with speed and resolve to take advantage of the new law. Consumers should take note that the new law not only empowered us to help can the spam, but also to can the spammers as well—and we’ll do that, one spam kingpin at a time if necessary. Our actions today clearly demonstrate that CAN-SPAM is alive and kicking—and we’re using it to give hard-core, outlaw spammers the boot.”

“Today’s bold action represents a decisive step by the leaders in our industry to preserve the integrity of the Internet and restore the value of e-mail that spammers have threatened to undermine,” said EarthLink Vice President, Chief Privacy Officer and Assistant General Counsel Les Seagraves. “Together, we are using a tough new federal law, combined with existing state laws, to let criminal spammers know that the nation’s leading Internet providers are united by a common goal: stopping the flow of illegal and intrusive junk e-mail and strengthening the Internet experience for all users. Collectively, we are committed to sending spammers the message that we will find them and use the full force of the law to stop them.”

“Substantial building blocks have been put into place in the effort to contain spam,” said Microsoft Deputy General Counsel Nancy Anderson. “With the creation of this anti-spam industry alliance and the implementation of a federal law to litigate effectively against spammers, we are witnessing the impact that this industrywide attack on spam is having. We’ve had the opportunity to share investigative best practices and various legal resources and information to ensure that spammers are going to have an increasingly difficult time continuing their deceptive practices with the full force of this industry coming down on them.”

“We’re holding spammers directly accountable for the relentless infiltration of people’s inboxes. We’re acting on behalf of the millions of people who are saying ‘enough is enough,’” said Yahoo! Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mike Callahan. “With federal legal remedies and industry collaboration, we have a significant new advantage. We are leveraging new legal tools and sharing best practices, sending a signal to spammers that they are facing a more unified front than ever before. This is great news for all consumers.”

The Industry Anti-Spam Alliance

The four companies formed an anti-spam alliance in April 2003. Coalition members meet regularly to proactively address the spam problem that threatens the effectiveness of e-mail as an essential means of communication. Through ongoing industry collaboration with a number of telecommunications companies and industry partners, the group expects to make consistent progress in the areas of technical standards development, as well as improved enforcement techniques and litigation.

Beyond today’s major enforcement efforts, the anti-spam industry alliance is making progress on issues related to new and promising technical Internet standards, specifically regarding the certification and authentication of e-mail.

Spam continues to drain time, resources and network space from online companies and inhibit the online experience of consumers across the medium. Spam remains the chief concern of these four companies and their customers.

Today’s announcement is the result of substantial corporate cooperation. By sharing information, resources and investigative best practices within this industry alliance, these companies have been able to identify high-volume outlaw spammers for civil lawsuits – a first and critical stage in the campaign to end unwanted junk e-mail through stepped-up and coordinated civil enforcement programs.

The companies believe that the issue of spam can only be significantly addressed and resolved through a comprehensive, multilayered approach that includes anti-spam technologies, consumer education and awareness, legal enforcement, self-policing of e-mail account abuse, and stronger partnerships between industry and government and other regulatory agencies.