WASHINGTON — The ongoing feud between e-mail marketers and anti-spammers reared its head during the lunch break at yesterday's Federal Trade Commission spam forum as two anti-spam activists were served with court papers.
The action was part of a lawsuit filed April 14 by EmarketersAmerica.org against some well-known anti-spam activists involving e-mail blacklisting groups Spamhaus.org and Spam Prevention Early Warning System, or SPEWS.org.
Mark Felstein, director and chief counsel of Boca Raton, FL-based EmarketersAmerica.org, declined to name any companies he represents, claiming fear of retaliation from anti-spammers.
“Right now if I name anybody, their business is gone,” Felstein said, adding that most of the plaintiffs are around the Boca Raton area, though some are outside Florida.
Served with papers yesterday were Alan Murphy of Spamhaus.org and Adam Brower, who apparently is not officially affiliated with any anti-spam organization. However, the suit names him as a principal of Spamhaus and SPEWS. Both Spamhaus and SPEWS publish spam blacklists, or “blocklists,” as anti-spammers refer to them. They list IP addresses suspected of being sources of spam.
Many ISPs and e-mail administrators use these blacklists to check incoming e-mail and filter out e-mail from suspected spam sources. Marketers, however, increasingly complain of “false positives” in which wanted e-mail is being blocked as spam.
Also, blacklists are known to list entire blocks of addresses and, as a result, prevent non-spammers who use the same service provider from sending e-mail. This is done hoping that customers of the service provider either take their business elsewhere or at least complain loudly enough to make the service provider police spammers more diligently. Anti-spammers refer to non-spammers denied e-mail service because of blacklists as collateral damage.
As a result, blacklisting is highly controversial.
Meanwhile, Spamhaus.org's proprietors are readily identifiable, but SPEWS' proprietors are not. SPEWS.org is registered in Russia and run anonymously to avoid lawsuits.
To get removed from SPEWS' blocklist, marketers have had to post messages on anti-spam group discussion list Nanae to make their case. However, EmarketersAmerica's complaint says that all the individuals named are proprietors of both Spamhaus and SPEWS. The complaint also says the plaintiffs believe SPEWS has offices in California and Illinois.
The complaint accuses the defendants of having “intentionally posted on their Web sites www.spamhaus.org and www.spews.org false, misleading and otherwise trade libelous information concerning the plaintiff.” It also accuses the defendants of using Spamhaus.org and Spews.org “in direct efforts to maliciously interfere with the businesses of the plaintiff and its members.”
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Florida, accuses the defendants of libel and slander, asking for an injunction and an unspecified award for attorney fees, court costs, interest and the right to make a claim for punitive damages.
Calling the suit “a wake-up call” to anti-spammers and marketers, Felstein said, “this should have been done a long time ago.” However, he said, he doesn't expect to get any money from the defendants.
Felstein also said his organization will conduct a national public information campaign to educate consumers that not all commercial messages on the Internet are the same as spam.
Since the suit was filed, Felstein said, he has received threatening telephone calls and corruption of his e-mail addresses. In addition, when his organization simply registered and parked its domain with a well-known register, it was wrongly blacklisted and immediately terminated by anti-spammers.
After just having been served with the lawsuit, Murphy declined to “address specific issues.” When asked about the libel claim, however, he said, “What I'm doing is lawful, and my speech is protected speech. I don't publish anything that I know not to be true.”
Anti-spam nonprofit SpamCon Foundation is expected to announce today that it has set up a legal defense fund for the defendants.