Microsoft Sues Spammers Who Violate CAN-SPAM “Brown Paper Wrapper” Rule

REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 2, 2004 — Microsoft Corp. today announced the filing of seven lawsuits against defendants who allegedly sent spam e-mail that violated the CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) U.S. anti-spam law. Spam that contains sexually oriented content that is initially viewable in the e-mail violates provisions known as “brown paper wrapper” in the CAN-SPAM law and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules. The labeling provisions require sexually oriented e-mail solicitations to include the label “SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT:” in both the subject line and the initially viewable area of an e-mail message.

“Sexually explicit materials and publications for sale in stores are required by law to be covered from view with a brown paper wrapper, and it’s important that consumers are protected online in the same way,” said Nancy Anderson, vice president and deputy general counsel at Microsoft. “Microsoft is committed to ensuring that Internet users are safe online and protected from receiving inappropriate content in e-mail that is unsolicited, unwanted and illegal.”

The seven lawsuits were filed yesterday in Washington State Superior Court in King County against “John Doe” defendants who have yet to be identified. The seven lawsuits allege violations of the CAN-SPAM federal law and Washington state’s Commercial Electronic Mail Act, including using compromised computers around the world to route spam e-mail messages, using misleading subject lines, and failing to include an unsubscribe option and physical address. Collectively, defendants in these cases allegedly sent hundreds of thousands of e-mail messages to Internet users.

“Labeling requirements for spam are important, and the ‘brown paper wrapper’ rule is a particularly important provision,” said Anne P. Mitchell, president of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy (ISIPP). “Not only does requiring the words ‘sexually explicit’ in the subject line and message portion of the e-mail aid spam filters, it protects consumers from unwittingly having to view content that they may deem offensive and troubling. Internet users should have this kind of control over the materials they receive in e-mail, and online commercial marketers should be held to this standard of doing business.”

The CAN-SPAM federal law was passed at the end of 2003 and enacted on Jan. 1, 2004. The law included provisions directing the FTC to adopt a rule requiring a mark or notice to be included in all spam containing sexually oriented material. The purpose of the rule was to ensure that Internet users are protected from viewing unwanted sexually explicit images and content in spam. The rule, formally adopted in May 2004, indicates that labeling must be included both in the subject line of any e-mail message that contains sexually oriented material, and in what is considered the electronic equivalent of a “brown paper wrapper” in the body of the message.

Adult-oriented e-mail solicitations make up a significant amount of spam. In addition to yesterday’s filings, Microsoft filed another John Doe lawsuit on Nov. 12, 2004, against a spammer soliciting, among other things, Korean-language adult-oriented Web sites. Microsoft has supported over 115 legal actions worldwide against spammers, including filing 86 lawsuits in the United States. The company is committed to filing lawsuits against spammers and other cybercriminals until the problems of spam and other cybercrime have abated substantiallyFounded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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