E-mail spammers must pay damages Court ruling a breakthrough against junk messages
(The Herald)AN internet marketing firm has been forced to pay damages in a ground-breaking case that could have a serious affect on spammers, those who send out unwanted e-mail ads. In what is believed to be the first action of its kind under a new European law, an internet expert has successfully claimed damages from a sender of bulk e-mails.
Although its wider impact has yet to be gauged, the victory was described as a significant step forward in the fight against spam, which costs the UK more than [GBP]6bn every year, paralyses communications and leaves companies open to security leaks, litigation and electronic vandalism.
A county court judge granted judgment against Media Logistics (UK) Ltd, which sends out e-mail adverts and promotions. The company, based in Stirlingshire, offers clients "electronic direct marketing" but ran into trouble when it sent unwanted material to Nigel Roberts, a Channel Islands-based businessman who runs an internet business.
He was able to take action under the Directive on Privacy and Telecommunications, an anti-spam law introduced three years ago by the EU giving individuals the right to fight the growing tide of unwanted e-mail by allowing them to claim damages.
When Mr Roberts, 37, received unwanted e-mail ads for a contract car firm and a fax broadcasting business, he decided to invoke the law.
Dr Portia File, a reader in computing at Abertay University, Dundee, described the case as a significant development after previous attempts to legislate against spam failed.
She said it was too early to predict its impact but added: "It is an interesting step forward. Most people in computing and who work with computers will be interested in this."
Mr Roberts said yesterday: "The new law gives anyone who is spammed the right to seek damages against the originators of the unwanted e-mail, fax or text message.
"I wrote to the company asking for an apology and claiming damages under Regulation 30 of the privacy regulations.
"I also asked, under the Data Protection Act, for details of data the company had obtained and stored about me and I particularly wanted to know who had supplied them with my e-mail address.
"When they declined to give the information or make any offer, I issued a claim against them in England, where they are incorporated, under the anti-spam laws."
The company filed an acknowledgement of the claim at the county court in Colchester but did not defend it.
Now, after a judge ruled in favour of Mr Roberts, the firm has agreed an out-of-court settlement in which they will pay Mr Roberts damages of [GBP]270 and his [GBP]30 claim fee.
Mr Roberts launched his action in the small claims court so was limited to the amount of damages he could expect. But legal advisers said that, in higher courts, much larger sums could be awarded against spammers.
Mr Roberts added: "This case does provide a guideline when it comes to successfully claiming damages from spammers. It also shows that wherever they are they can be held responsible for sending spam to anyone living in a British Isles jurisdiction.
"This may be a tiny victory but perhaps now spammers will begin to realise people don't have to put up with their e-mail inboxes being filled with unwanted junk.
"It may even help in the fight against spammers in the US, one of the main sources, since English judgments can be enforced in the United States."
No-one from Media Logistics was available for comment yesterday.