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UK ISP Wins Legal Battle in Spam Wars

March 31, 2000

A small London Internet firm has taken on Sam Khuri, the man behind Benchmark Print Supply, a bulk e-mail specialist in the US, and won. The court settlement involves Atlanta, Ga.-based Benchmark paying the firm, BiblioTech, an undisclosed sum in damages, as well as committing to pay an extra $1,000 to any individual affected by future spamming activities.

The legal bill for the case, one of the first completed in the Internet industry, is expected to be large. Benchmark has agreed to pick up the tab, as part of the settlement. The court ruling, which technically applies to the US, Newsbytes notes, actually aims to apply to all Internet users and Internet service providers (ISPs), and effectively bars Benchmark and/or Khuri from spamming any Internet user.

The case stems from the launch of BiblioTech's Postmaster e-mail service, which requires users to undertake not to use the service to spam people's Internet mailboxes. After bringing its action against Benchmark, BiblioTech apparently refused to settle its case in April, 1999, when, despite agreeing a financial settlement, Khuri refused to agree to a no-more-spamming clause in the settlement agreement.

Khuri apparently used BiblioTech's servers to route outbound bulk e-mail, and advertising for, among other things, low-cost print toner cartridges. The firm used lists of Internet addresses drawn from commercial mailing lists. The problem with such e-mail lists is that a significant number are often incorrect or out of date, resulting in such messages being bounced by the destination server.

BiblioTech said that the sheer volume of e-mail generated by Benchmark was such that, when messages started to bounce, for whatever reason, the London company's servers were brought to a halt for several days. The only successful case against an e-mail spammer in the UK was that of Virgin Net in 1999 against its user Adrian Paris.

The case against Paris, who Virgin Net said had been trading under the name ProPhoto UK, was the first of its type in the UK. In its High Court writ of April, 1999, the ISP alleged that he caused problems on its Internet servers by generating more than a quarter of a million junk e-mails. Even worse, however, was the allegation that, as a result of the mass e-mails, the Virgin Net mail server was placed on the Realtime Blackhole List (RBL), an informal list circulated among key ISPs that identifies which domains are generating large volumes of junk e-mail, known as "spamming" in Internet circles.

According to Virgin Net, Paris settled the lawsuit by agreeing not to open another account with the ISP, or to spam the firm's estimated quarter of million subscribers. As part of the settlement, he paid the ISP 5,000 pounds ($8,000) in costs and damages. Because the Virgin/Paris case was settled out of court, however, it meant that no legal precedent applies, either in the UK or elsewhere.

The legal precedent aspect of the BiblioTech/Benchmark case in the UK, however, could be short-lived as European Union legislation expected this summer will require that the sending of unsolicited e-mail be heavily regulated.

Steve Gold,


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