MySpace Wins $234 Million CAN-SPAM Case

Tod Hunter
LOS ANGELES — Social networking site MySpace has won a $234 million legal judgment under the CAN-SPAM law over junk messages sent to MySpace members after defendants Sanford Wallace and Walter Rines failed to show up in court.

The judgment is thought to be the largest ever made against senders of unsolicited commercial email.

"Anybody who's been thinking about engaging in spam are going to say 'Wow, I better not go there,'" Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace chief security officer, told the Associated Press. "Spammers don't want to be prosecuted. They are there to make money. It's our job to send a message to stop them."

The two junk mailers created MySpace accounts and took over existing ones by stealing passwords. Using these accounts, they emailed MySpace members fraudulently, making the mail look like it came from trusted friends. Typically, the email 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," Nigam said.

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

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

Under the 2003 CAN-SPAM law, each violation entitles MySpace to $100 in damages, which is tripled when spam is sent "willfully and knowingly."

MySpace sought $157.4 million from Wallace and Rines under CAN-SPAM, plus a further $63.4 million separately from Rines under the same law. MySpace sought another $3 million from the pair under a different section of CAN-SPAM, $1.5 million under California's anti-phishing laws and reimbursement for $4.7 million spent on legal fees.

U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins granted every one of MySpace's claims for damages. The judge also issued injunctions against Wallace and Rines, barring similar activities in the future.

John Levine of the antispam advocacy group Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email told reporters he believes MySpace will have a tough job collecting the money.

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