Page last updated at 09:06 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 10:06 UK

MySpace wins bumper spam payout

Sanford Wallace in 1997, AP
Spammer Sanford Wallace has a long history of sending junk mail

MySpace has won a $234m (120m) legal judgement over junk messages sent to members of the social networking site.

Victory in the case was awarded to MySpace after Sanford Wallace and Walter Rines, the men behind the junk mail, failed to show up in court.

The judgement is thought to be the largest ever given against senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail.

However, anti-spam experts said MySpace had little chance of getting the cash it sought.

Damage call

"Anybody who's been thinking about engaging in spam are going to say 'Wow, I better not go there,'" said Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace chief security officer to AP.

"Spammers don't want to be prosecuted. They are there to make money. It's our job to send a message to stop them," he added.

The two junk mailers worked together to create MySpace accounts or took over existing ones by stealing passwords.

Using these accounts the pair e-mailed MySpace members to make the mail look like it came from trusted friends. Typically the e-mail asked recipients to view a video or visit a website.

"When you go there, they were making money trying to sell you something or making money based on hits or trying to sell ringtones," said Mr Nigam.

MySpace said the duo sent 735,925 messages to its members.

In court papers, MySpace said sending the junk mail cost it money and generated complaints from hundreds of users. MySpace also said that some of the external websites contained pornographic material, potentially harming teenagers who use MySpace.

Under the 2003 US CAN Spam law, each violation entitles MySpace to $100 (50) in damages, tripled when spam is sent "wilfully and knowingly".

In its legal case MySpace sought $157.4m from Mr Wallace and Mr Rines under CAN Spam plus a further $63.4m separately from Mr Rines under the same law. MySpace sought another $3m from the pair under a different section of CAN-Spam. It also sought $1.5m under California's anti-phishing laws and reimbursement for the $4.7m it spent on legal fees.

US District Judge Audrey B Collins in Los Angeles granted every one of MySpace's claim for damages.

But John Levine of the anti-spam advocacy group Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email believes MySpace will have a tough job collecting the money.

"The giant judgements are all defaults, which means they don't necessarily even know how to find the spammer."

The judge also issued injunctions against Mr Wallace and Mr Rines barring similar activities in the future.

MySpace is pursuing another anti-spam case against a person it claims gained access to profiles using stolen passwords and then sent spam bulletins from those accounts.




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