An Edinburgh man has obtained damages of more than £1,300 from British-based spammer.
Gordon Dick was granted the order against Transcom Internet Services Ltd of Henley-on-Thames at a January hearing in Edinburgh's Sheriff Court. Although he hasn't received any money yet, even after sending a debt collector around to Transcom's premises, the lawsuit is a landmark in the fight by consumers against UK spammers. This is the first action of its kind in Scotland and only the second so far in the UK.
The Scottish action comes after a £300 out-of-court settlement against Media Logistics obtained by aggrieved spam recipient Nigel Roberts. Dick said despite differing legal systems in Scotland and England the basis of both cases were violations of the same anti-spam laws.
"The courts have now sent a clear message, spam will not be tolerated and individuals rights to not have their mailbox filled with unsolicited advertising will be upheld. It has been clear to me throughout my case and in front of each sheriff that they have little time for spammers and their anti-social actions," he said.
Dick, who works in ecommerce, and has no legal background, told El Reg that he found the small claims process quite straightforward and "user friendly". Legal action for individuals is only possible where spammers can be identified as originating from the UK, which Dick acknowledges is not always easy. Another difficulty is that UK legislation applies only to private email addresses (not those of businesses) and fails to specify the level of damages spammers ought to pay.
In his case, the offending email was sent in February 2006 to a protected address that had never received any spam. This address was obtained from Transcom Internet Services from a private mailing list and used to spamvertise, of all things, spam-filtered email addresses from a UK-based website run by Transcom Internet Services.
Dick wrote to a group of companies in Henley-on-Thames run by a William Smith of Reading, the sole director of Transcom Internet Services Ltd and a director of Transcom ISP Ltd, as well as other firms. He sought an explanation of Transcom's actions and a promise to delete his personal data.
Transcom Internet Services wrote back confirming responsibility for the email but denied its actions were unlawful and challenged Dick to sue. Transcom reacted to Dick's final warning that he planned to take legal action, with threats to counter-sue that failed to materialise he filed a small claim in Edinburgh Sheriff Court in May 2006.
Dick sued Transcom for violations of the UK's Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, which gives individuals the right to avoid receiving unsolicited commercial email, faxes or text messages. Transcom sent the offending messages to an estimated 72,000 recipients.
Transcom instructed solicitors and filed a defence in court. Early hearings went against Transcom resulting in an offer to settle out of court for £500, which Dick refused because it contained no promise from Transcom that it would refrain from spamming again and no apology over its earlier actions.
The day before the case was due to be heard, Transcom agreed to pay £750 but again refused to be bound by a promise not to violate anti-spam laws again. This settlement never completed and Transcom's solicitors withdrew from acting for the company.
Dick was awarded damages of £750 plus interest along with expenses of £617 as a result of small claims court action against Transcom Internet Services. A maximum of £75 on expenses is normal for small court claim actions but this cap was lifted, reflecting the tough line the court took to Transcom's failure to attend arbitration or otherwise settle the case at an earlier date.
Users who receive spam messages from UK firms need to make sure they give firms a chance to put things right, Dick advises. "You need to stay calm and reasonable," he said.
Although most spam hitting UK in-boxes comes from countries such as the USA and China, British internet users can at least drive local spammers out of business. Dick has launched a website to help others make legal claims against spammers at scotchspam.org.uk. Roberts offers his own advice on his earlier successful legal action here. ®