Most people just grumble and hit delete, but when Gordon Dick received a spam message advertising Internet services, he fought back.
The 30-year-old Web marketing specialist from Edinburgh sued the sender, Transcom Internet Services Ltd., in small-claims court. The court ordered the company to pay $1,445 in damages and $1,190 in court costs.
"If someone was throwing stones through your window, would you just ignore it?" Dick said. "It's anti-social behavior and they shouldn't be doing it in the first place."
Dick argued that Transcom had taken his e-mail address from an Internet forum without his consent, violating the European Union Data Protection Act.
Transcom director William Smith denied that the message was spam. He said Dick received the mailing last year after his address was accidentally taken from a group e-mail and added to a company database. Smith said the e-mail went to 41,000 people.
Transcom's lawyers argued damages were unwarranted because the e-mail did not hurt Dick financially. But the court rejected the argument.
Nick Lockett, a London attorney who specializes in Internet law, said the ruling could prompt other cases in which spam recipients seek damages to cover the costs of e-mail filtering software and server space.
Indeed, Dick has set up a Web site offering advice on how to fight spammers in court. So has Nigel Roberts, a Briton who won a 300-pound ($580) settlement in 2005 over spam from a car company and a fax broadcasting business.
"The majority of people," Roberts said, "don't know how to look at the spam e-mail and identify who sent it."