America Online and Hotmail have both launched lawsuits this week against alleged 'spammers' or junk emailers.
The two companies are both suing Michigan based LCGM, while AOL has also filed against Web Promo, also of Michigan. Hotmail, the Microsoft-owned free Net email supplier, is also suing a further seven alleged offenders.
All the suits claim that the defendants are flooding their networks with pornographic junk email.
AOL filed its suit last week in the US District court of Virginia, seeking an injunction to stop LCGM and Web Promo from sending junk mail to its users. AOL is also seeking damages from both companies - which it says are owned by the same person.
The company is particularly concerned because some of the unsolicited email - or spam as it known among Internet users - publicises potentially offensive Web sites such as 'live-video-sex.com,' 'pornjunkie.com' and 'hot-sex.com'.
It also claims that that LCGM and Web Promo forged AOL?s domain name in their headers, making it appear that their bulk email originated from the AOL network.
LCGM is also one of eight companies being sued by Hotmail. The company claims all eight forged Hotmail?s 'hotmail .com' domain name and incorporated it into their spam.
The email provider believes its reputation has been damaged and is citing trademark infringement and dilution, unfair competition and violations of the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as fraud and libel.
AOL and Hotmail have been fighting a running battle with spammers for nearly a year. The problem has escalated to the point where two US state legislators have introduced bills to either prohibit spam altogether, or to force spammers to provide free phone numbers and return addresses to recipients so they can request removal from junk mail lists.
But even if spamming is banned in the US there is nothing to stop a company moving to a network outside the country.
The UK also lacks any specific legislation to combat spamming, but does have a government backed watchdog to monitor the Internet - the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).
The IWF is currently working on a Internet rating system, which should be formally announced in a few weeks' time. Under the proposed system, anyone placing material on the Web would be required to 'tag' their site using a system similar to film classification. Users accessing a page would than be able to decide whether or not to enter according to the severity of the rating.
The IWF was set up in September 1996 with the backing of the government, the police and the two major UK service provider trade associations - the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) and London Internet Exchange (LINX).
The body also runs a hotline allowing Internet users to immediately report any offensive material such as child pornography. Hotline manager Ruth Dixon explained: ?We rely on calls from users to track down anything potentially illegal. If it is held on a UK server, even for a small amount of time, we will notify the police and the ISP responsible may be liable to prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act.?
The IWF hotline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The hotline telephone number is 01223 236077. Email messages can be sent to [email protected]/hotline.
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