A group of Florida e-mail marketers have fired another round — in court — in the rapidly escalating spam wars.
A Boca Raton trade association calling itself Emarketersamerica.org has filed suit against a dozen prominent antispam groups, seeking a jury trial and damages of US$75,000. The complaint alleges antispam groups have interfered with contracts between marketers and their Internet service providers by petitioning the ISPs to remove the marketers from their networks.
The group also claims that organizations Spamhaus and the Spam Prevention Early Warning System, the two primary defendants named in the suit, “sell products which block the electronic transmission and communications of American citizens and businesses.”
The move follows several recent suits by ISPs against purported spammers. Congress is also considering legislation to crack down on spam.
“They’re interfering with a contract between the members of our association, the tier-one providers, and the American people,” says Mark Felstein, director of the trade group and the attorney who brought the suit. “I believe they’re doing it for their own financial gain.”
An examination of the Spamhaus and SPEWS Web sites failed to turn up any products for sale. Both sites maintain free lists of IP addresses allegedly used to send spam; these lists are used by ISPs and corporations to block unsolicited commercial e-mail.
Antispammers contacted for comment seemed more amused than concerned by the suit. Defendant Adam Brower, who provides hosting services for antispam activists, said his reaction is “disbelief, followed by hilarity, followed by the gratifying realization that I have been handed a nuclear weapon.”
The suit will enable antispam groups to uncover details about how marketers operate, as part of their defense in the suit, Brower says.
Steve Linford, director of Spamhaus, says the complaint is merely a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) designed to intimidate antispam activists.
“All of the information and allegations are false,” Linford says. “One of the individuals being sued is my brother who lives in Italy and doesn’t even know what Spamhaus.org is.”
New Org, New Effort
According to Florida public records, Felstein incorporated Emarketersamerica.org on March 10, 2003. The group has no Web site and Felstein declines to name any of its members, saying simply they are “local Florida businesses that do electronic marketing.”
Linford of Spamhaus claims the suit is being brought by a group of marketers known for sending e-mail advertisements for pornography and sexual aids.
“The spammers behind Emarketersamerica.org are the Boca Raton gang of Eddy Marin, Brendan Battles, and other Florida spammers,” Linford says.
Felstein denies his clients send such ads or that they knowingly send unsolicited e-mail. However, he acknowledges representing Opt-In Services, a marketing firm that caters to the adult industry and employs Eddy Marin. Opt-In has previously brought legal action against antispam organizations.
Brower says the suit may ultimately help eradicate spam.
“I hope this case will eventually establish case law settling once and for all the right of providers to block unsolicited bulk e-mail,” he said.
Linford says such lawsuits may indicate that marketers who rely on mass e-mail fear a legislative clampdown.
“The closer we get to the possibility of a U.S. antispam law, the more desperate spammers are becoming,” Linford says.