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Cheapbulletproof.com makes an offer that's sure to appeal to spammers: "We guarantee your website will not get shutdown!!" Microsoft is putting that claim to the test. Last week, it took aim at this "bulletproof" Web hosting company, filing a lawsuit against company owner Levon Gillespie and numerous John Doe defendants who allegedly utilized his services.
The lawsuit is one of nine the Microsoft has filed against spammers in the past month. In less than two years, Microsoft has supported more than 100 anti-spam enforcement actions worldwide, about 70 of which the company has filed itself.
The suit is significant in that it represents a new front in the war on spam: spam service providers. "It's the first time we've taken action against a Web host hosting spam content," says Aaron Kornblum, Internet safety enforcement attorney at Microsoft.
"This particular Web host is providing a vital service to spammers," he explains. "He is giving spammers a place to host their content to sell their products and services. Spammers need a place to drive their customers to, and without these Web hosts setting up pages like these, spammers wouldn't be able to do business."
Microsoft's legal complaint alleges violations of the Washington Commercial Electronic Mail Act, the Washington Consumer Protection Act, the federal Can-Spam Act of 2003, and the Lanham Act (under which trademark claims are brought). The Washington State laws let Microsoft target those who assist spammers.
Kornblum says Microsoft is making solid progress in its legal battles with spammers, but adds that it's too early to tell how litigation will affect the spam problem. The company has seen a variety of outcomes in individual cases so far. These include default judgments, when defendants fail to appear in court, settlements, and summary judgments--in California this summer, a judge found the facts overwhelmingly supported Microsoft's allegations and ruled accordingly. Some defendants have declared bankruptcy to avoid financial and legal responsibility; others have elected to fight.
"We're trying to change the economics of spam," he says. "That's our primary goal in our enforcement efforts. We're trying to make spamming a more expensive proposition and to drive spammers out of the market so that customers and consumers can trust the E-mail that they receive."