California wins first state suit against spammers

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer claimed victory in the state’s first antispam lawsuit late last week, after a court ordered PW Marketing and its owners to pay a US$2 million fine for violating California laws against sending unsolicited commercial e-mail.

Spam costs U.S. businesses nearly US$9 billion a year in lost productivity and screening expenses, and accounts for roughly 40 per cent of all e-mail, Lockyer said in a statement released Friday. The Attorney General added that his office would continue to enforce antispam laws against the “high tech pollutant.”

The case was won one month after California passed tough new antispam legislation prohibiting unsolicited e-mail advertisements sent to or from any California residents. That statute takes effect Jan. 1, 2004.

PW Marketing and its owners Paul Willis and Claudia Griffin were charged under current California antispam law for sending millions of unsolicited e-mail advertisements promoting products that claimed to help recipients make money through sending spam that hawked books, software and lists of e-mail addresses, according to the attorney general’s office.

The lawsuit was filed in September 2002.

In addition to the US$2-million fine, the company and its owners were prohibited from sending any unsolicited commercial e-mail, disguising their identity by sending e-mail that appears to originate from an e-mail address that is not their own and accessing and using computers and computer systems of persons without their permission.

Furthermore, they were barred for 10 years from owning, managing and holding any economic interest in any company that advertises over the Internet without first providing written notice to the attorney general.

Lockyer said in the statement that he would use the same “injunctive relief” provisions in future enforcement actions.

The court victory punctuates a time of increasing concern over spam among both politicians and Internet industry players who see it as a modern day scourge that curbs the Net’s legitimate business potential.

Representatives for PW Marketing were not available to comment on the Santa Clara County Superior Court verdict Monday.