An Internet service provider was awarded an $11.2 billion judgment against a Florida man for sending millions of unsolicited e-mails advertising mortgage and debt consolidation services.
The lawsuit, filed in 2003 by CIS Internet Services owner Robert Kramer III, also prompted earlier judgments against companies in Florida and Arizona worth more than $1 billion.
"This ruling sets a new standard," Kramer said in a statement. "Gross abusers of e-mail risk exposure to public ridicule as well as the economic death penalty."
The most recent judgment was issued Dec. 23 against James McCalla of Florida, who is also barred from accessing the Internet for three years.
The lawsuit claimed that McCalla sent more than 280 million illegal spam e-mails into CIS's network, which provides Internet connections in eastern Iowa and parts of Illinois.
Kramer's lawsuit initially named numerous defendants, many of whom were dropped from the lawsuit the last couple years. In 2004, judgments totaling more than $1 billion were issued against Cash Link Systems of Florida, AMP Dollar Savings Inc. of Arizona, and TEI Marketing Group Inc. of Florida.
The lawsuit said the defendants used the "cis.net" domain in the e-mails as part of a false return address to disguise their source and deflect complaints to CIS.
Kramer claimed that under state law he was entitled to $10 per illegal e-mail, and he said Wednesday that he does expect to see the money.
According to the Web site for the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, large numbers of junk e-mails have knocked out or disrupted Internet provider systems belonging to large Internet providers such as AT&T, as well as systems belonging to smaller rural providers such as CIS. Additionally, the massive numbers of spam e-mails cost businesses and individuals millions of dollars annually.
John Mozena, co-founder and vice president of CAUCE, said Kramer's lawsuit will likely not solve the spamming problem.
"There have been regulatory actions and even criminal actions against spammers, but it has not made much of a dent in the total volume of spam we see," he said. "Spam is still roughly two-thirds of all e-mail on the Internet."
He said sending unsolicited commercial e-mail is not illegal in the United States. It is only illegal to send dishonest spam, which includes forging a company's domain name onto the e-mail or having a misleading subject line.
"What we need is a federal anti-spam law, such as some countries such as Australia have," he said. "Spamming is illegal in Australia."