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Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK


Virgin sues spam man

Mail from Virgin Net was bounced back due to a serial spammer

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

Virgin Net is suing one of its former subscribers for allegedly sending more than a quarter of a million junk e-mails. It is the first Internet case of its kind in the UK.

The Internet Service Provider (ISP) said the "spam" sent by Adrian Paris, trading under the name ProPhoto UK, had led to thousands of complaints and disrupted Virgin Net's computer systems.

Virgin Net says its entire mail service was placed on the dreaded Realtime Blackhole List (RBL), a system which blocks messages from ISPs known to be propagating spam.

'Spammer' sold spammable database

Mr Paris first set up a Virgin Net account in July 1998. He used it to try to sell a database of e-mail addresses - £15 to £105 for one to ten million. Its is ironic that he marketed the service, which could be used for spamming, by bulk e-mailing to thousands of addresses.

Virgin Net says it immediately notified Mr Paris he was breaching its terms and conditions. He apologised and said the e-mails had been sent out by mistake.

Virgin Net alleges he then set up a second account under a different name in September and recommenced spamming. The account was cancelled by Virgin Net.

Late last year, he set up two more accounts using two different names, according to Virgin, and the resulting spam led to more than 1,500 complaints and the "blackholing" of Virgin Net by RBL.

'Spammers will think twice'

Virgin Net says it hopes the case will send out a clear message to spammers to desist: "Spamming is a nuisance to our customers and a reputation issue for us," said Business Development Director, David Johnson.

"As an ISP we have a responsibility to protect our customers from potential spamming and by pursuing this case we hope that spammers will think twice before sending any unsolicited email out in the future.

"In addition, Mr Paris' spamming has caused us to suffer a loss of goodwill from our existing and potential customers. We have also had to restore our reputation with other ISP's after being blackholed by RBL."

Virgin Net has issued a writ alleging breach of contract and trespass. It estimates at least 40 hours of management time was spent investigating the problem, replying to all the customers who complained and dealing with being removed from the RBL.

Europe to fight spam

A European Parliament committee is expected to endorse an e-commerce package of legislation on Thursday, which includes measures to combat spam.

The European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC) has lobbied for governments to have the right to block advertising and marketing that violates their own laws rather than leave it to the country of origin.

Otherwise, it says, operators could set up in countries with lower consumer protection standards and target other EU states.

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