Net expert Nigel Roberts has won a landmark legal victory by chasing down a UK spammer and winning £300 in costs.
Roberts, who runs his own Internet business as well as the Jersey and Guernsey country code domains, used his legal know-how to apply EU legislation to a UK company, Media Logistics.
It is believed to be the first time the legislation has been used in the UK, and could open the doors for thousands of other cases.
Back in August, Roberts received several marketing emails from Media Logistics. They were just a few of the many thousands that he and every Internet user receive each year, except that Mr Roberts tracked the email back to the company using its IP address.
Recognising that as a UK company it came under the EU law, he sent a letter demanding an apology, damages and the name of the company that had given Media Logistics his email address. The company apologised but refused his two other requests.
Unfortunately for the company, Roberts, 37, is a recognised internet expert and was studying for a law degree, which he has just been awarded. After lengthy correspondence, the company offered £100 in damages but claimed not to be able to disclose the name of the company it had bought his email address from for legal reasons. Pushing further, Media Logistics disclosed the name of a long-dead company.
Roberts took the company to court in October and won, with damages to be decided at a hearing on 4 January 2006. Just prior to Xmas, however, the company offered £300 as a final settlement which Mr Roberts agreed to. He is due to receive the cheque tomorrow.
The case sets an interesting precedent. Since it was settled out of court, the damages will not be bidding in future cases, but the cost is likely to be used as a guideline. The case will also highlight the EU anti-spam law (Directive 2002/58/EC) and its practical effectiveness.
Roberts is also preparing a series of legal templates based on his case which he will make available for free on his campaigning website found at www.spamlegalaction.co.uk. He told us it will be a "DIY spam self-defence kit". The hope is that without any specialised legal knowledge, even everyday Internet users will be able to sue companies that send them unsolicited email.
The EU law was introduced in July 2002, and is similar to other laws across the world hoping to put an end to the spam menace. So far though, the only law to have been used effectively has been in the US. It has also only been large IT companies such as Microsoft that have been able to make the most of it to win damages from spammers and so make it a less profitable profession.
Roberts' victory could well do what the internet does best and empower millions of individuals to chase down companies.
It is not a panacea to spam however. Many spammers spoof IP addresses or use servers based in countries outside of spam legislation. But it is a step in the right direction, and indicative of a wider movement against spam.
The world's governments agreed in November to set up a new worldwide forum to devise applicable rules and laws for spam right across the globe. Technical changes coming to the Internet, such as the move to IPv6, will also make the sending of spam more difficult and traceable. ®