Court denies request to shut down Spamhaus

A U.S. judge has denied an appeal that would have suspended the domain name for The Spamhaus Project Ltd., averting a potential quagmire over how U.S. legal rulings apply across the global Internet.

Spamhaus, a group of computer security experts based in London, creates a database used by security vendors to block unsolicited bulk e-mail, known as spam.

Last month, an e-mail marketing company, e360 Insight LLC, won an $11.7 million judgement against Spamhaus in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois. The ruling also called for Spamhaus to remove e360 from its blacklists.

Spamhaus, which has been sued in the U.S. several times, typically ignores the rulings. It says U.S. courts do not have jurisdiction over it since the group is based in the U.K. Spamhaus maintains that e360’s e-mail constitutes spam and violates U.K. law.

The U.S. lawsuits against Spamhaus typically end there, but earlier this month e360 raised the stakes. On Oct. 6 it asked the U.S. court to force the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and Spamhaus’s domain registrar, Tucows Inc., to suspend its domain name.

The request sparked speculation that ICANN, which is subject to U.S. law, would be required to enforce that law internationally by, for example, shutting down a foreign Web site. ICANN said later that even if a court did order it to shut down a domain, it couldn’t do that since that power lies with individual registrars.

For the time being, it appears the tussle is moot. Judge Charles P. Kocoras wrote in his denial of e360’s request that cutting off all of Spamhaus’s activities would “not correspond to the gravity of the offending conduct.”

Spamhaus CEO Steve Linford said a ruling the other way would have been alarming, particularly to governments concerned that the U.S. has held administrative control over the Internet through ICANN for too long.

“Of course, we are extremely relieved that the judge has ruled in this way,” Linford said by telephone Friday.

Spamhaus, which has retained new legal counsel, is pursuing how it can get U.S. courts to recognize that it does not fall within their jurisdiction, Linford said. In the past, Spamhaus has advised bulk e-mailers to sue it in U.K. courts. It believes they are reluctant to do so, he said, because of tougher U.K. antispam laws and legal rules that require losing parties to pay court costs.