Social networking site MySpace has just won an unprecedented $230 million award in a lawsuit it brought against two people who had bombarded MySpace users with unsolicited advertisements for pornography and gambling websites.
Are you fed up of mails luring you with extravagant promises of easy wealth or anatomical enhancements, mails that clutter up your inbox day in and day out? Well, you may be up for some relief, considering that a Los Angeles federal court in the US has just handed down the strictest punishment till date for such unsolicited mails, or spam, as they are better known as.
The federal judge found the two defendants, Sanford Wallace, and his partner, Walter Rines, guilty after the two failed to attend a court hearing, said MySpace. The decision, handed down on Tuesday, is the largest award so far since the CAN-SPAM Act was introduced in 2003.
MySpace decided to sue when it discovered the duo had lured MySpace users into revealing their login information through phishing sites. After obtaining user IDs and passwords, the pair distributed messages to the users' friends list with links to various Web sites involving gambling, pornography and ringtones. Disguised as comments from the user's friends, the notes in fact contained advertisements that made the pair a small fee every time somebody was fooled into clicking on them.
According to court documents, Wallace and Rines distributed 735,925 messages during the scam and earned over $500,000 in the process. The spam campaign caused hundreds of complaints and a big headache for MySpace, especially since the spam indiscriminately sent pornography links to minors as well as adults.
The federal judge in the case fined the spam partners the maximum amount under the law. CAN-SPAM allows for fines of $100 per message and that number can be tripled for particularly abusive practices. The pair were fined $163.4 million under two parts of CAN-SPAM, Rines was singled out for an extra $63.4 million, $1.5 million was for violating California's anti-phishing laws. Rines and Wallace were also ordered to pay another $4.7 million for incurred legal fees.
Wallace is no stranger to litigation. In the 1990s, he earned the nicknames "Spam King" and "Spamford" while running a company, Cyber Promotions, that sent as many as 30 million junk emails a day. He left after being sued by several Internet service providers.
Over the years he has run various other companies such as Spambot.net and Seismic Entertainment Productions, all of who have faced litigation. In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission won a judgment against Wallace for $4 million for a spyware-related scam. He was also in the news in 2006 when he was blacklisted and refused service by several Internet Service Providers including AOL and Compuserve.
Although the judgement was hailed as ''landmark'', there is little chance that MySpace and the authorities can manage to obtain the fine from the perpetrators, considering their unknown locations. However, it may prove to be a deterrent.
MySpace's security chief, Hemanshu Nigam, said, ''Anybody who's been thinking about engaging in spam are going to say 'Wow, I better not go there','' and added that, ''MySpace has zero tolerance for those who attempt to act illegally on our site. We remain committed to punishing those who violate the law and try to harm our members.''