Microsoft files suits against smut spammers

Microsoft is again using the courts to pursue individuals allegedly responsible for spam e-mail campaigns, this time going after those who send out unsolicited and sexually explicit e-mail.

The company filed seven lawsuits against defendants it accuses of sending hundreds of thousands of spam e-mail with sexually explicit content that is easily viewed in the e-mail, Microsoft said Thursday. The spam campaigns violate provisions of the U.S. Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) law, including a so-called "brown paper wrapper" rule that requires e-mail containing sexually explicit content to be labeled as such and to prevent sexually explicit content from being viewed when the e-mail is initially received, Microsoft said in a statement.

The seven lawsuits were filed in Washington State Superior Court in King County, Washington, against "John Does," who have not yet been identified, Microsoft said.

In addition to the "brown paper wrapper" violations, the e-mail in question does not adhere to other CAN-SPAM provisions, including those that mandate accurate subject lines, a physical mail address for the sender and easy unsubscribe options for unsolicited commercial e-mail, the company said.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adopted a rule requiring spam containing sexually oriented material to contain the label "SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT" in the subject line in April. At the time, the FTC likened the requirement to putting an electronic "brown paper wrapper" around raunchy spam and said that spammers who ignore the law risk fines.

The rule is designed to protect e-mail recipients from graphic and unsolicited sexual images. The labels make it easier to spot and filter out such messages before they land in a recipient's inbox. In addition to the label, explicit spam must include a valid postal address for the sender, the FTC said.

Microsoft alleges that the e-mail messages were being sent through compromised computers around the world.

The lawsuits are the latest of 86 the company has filed in the U.S., including a Nov. 12 "John Doe" suit against a spammer allegedly using e-mail to solicit for a Korean-language adult Web site. In October, the company joined other leading Internet service providers in a round of antispam lawsuits, alleging that one named and two unnamed defendants e-mailed millions of messages advertising herbal growth supplements, mortgage services and get-rich-quick schemes that violated provisions of CAN-SPAM.

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