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25 Sep 2005
On Thursday the 22nd, Robert Braver, an Oklahoma ISP owner who is a long time activist against both spam and junk faxes, received a default judgement of over $10 million against high profile spammer Robert Soloway and his company Newport Internet Marketing. Soloway has frequently been cited as one of the ten largest spammers in the world.
Braver originally filed his case in state court, but Soloway moved the case to Federal court earlier this year. Soloway was initially represented by attorneys, but the attorneys withdrew from the case and since then, although Solway said he'd be representing himself, he hasn't responded in the case, although he has been actively sending comments about it to usenet and mailing lists.
The decision is based both on the Federal CAN SPAM act and Oklahoma law. Based on Braver's having received Soloway's spam on about 200 separate dates, and that the spam breaks two separate Oklahoma laws both of which provide for $25,000/day in damages, the total comes to $10,075,000. The decision further forbids Soloway from future violations of CAN SPAM.
Microsoft also won a judgement against Soloway, but Braver's is considerably broader in that it has the CAN SPAM injunction. While it is unlikely that Braver will ever collect any of his $10 million, since Microsoft already has gotten whatever there is to be gotten, if Soloway violates the injunction, he could be jailed for contempt. We have heard reports that Soloway is still sending spam that violates CAN SPAM, so more legal action in the near future appears likely.
Details of the case including a copy of the decision and other documents are available on a website that Braver set up.
With any luck, this will lead to the end of Soloway's spamming. But it also points out how difficult it is to use current laws against spammers. Braver is a uniquely diligent plaintiff, and pursued the case at the cost of considerable time and expense to himself. A less determined and experienced plaintiff might wall have abandoned the effort, not for lack of a strong case, but because the process of suing spammers in Federal court is so slow and expensive.
The junk fax law (the TCPA, 47 USC 227) permits individual recipients to file suit in state courts, which is much cheaper and quicker. There is some merit to the concern that if it's too easy to sue, mailers will be faced with a blizzard of nuisance suits, as happened in Utah. But I don't think it would be hard to craft a law that had a reasonable threshold for filing suits, and perhaps for awarding costs to the loser in meritless suits. We can do a lot better than CAN SPAM.
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