The largest internet service provider in the US, America Online is taking legal action to try to stop the flood of spam that has infuriated many of its 27 million customers.
Junk e-mails are a major annoyance for net users
AOL has filed lawsuits against more than a dozen individuals and companies who it says have sent millions of unsolicited messages through its electronic network.
In language reminiscent of the Pentagon, America Online says its lawsuits are aimed at leadership targets in a war against junk e-mails.
Spam accounts for as much as 40% of global e-mail traffic and is causing a headache for businesses, costing them billions in lost productivity
The lawsuits are the first anti-spam cases AOL has launched since May 2001. The company is seeking damages of more than $10 million, as well as an end to the messages.
The defendants are alleged to have sent a billion unsolicited messages that led to eight million complaints from AOL customers.
Most of them are not identified in the legal papers. But filing the lawsuits gives AOL additional authority to subpoena service providers and others to try to track down the spammers.
Junk e-mails are widely considered as one of the biggest annoyances on the web. Messages offering pornography, ways to lose weight or sex drugs regularly clutter people's inboxes.
A number of the major internet service providers have launched legal action against the originators of unsolicited e-mails in the face of mounting anger from their subscribers.
There are also moves to toughen up American law in this area. Last week, two senators reintroduced a bill to curb junk e-mails that failed in the last Congressional session after opposition from the direct marketing industry.
Experts estimate that spam costs businesses around the world about $9 billion a year to deal with.
This estimate includes the time it takes people to delete the messages, the cost of buying larger mail servers and storage systems to cope with inboxes flooded with the messages and the cost of having staff unclog networks overloaded by spam.