The Washington Post

Jury says Md. computer company not bona fide to sue over spam

A Maryland businessman seeking millions of dollars from alleged spammers who clog his e-mail inboxes is not a bona fide Internet service provider, a jury decided Thursday at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt.

Paul Wagner, who runs a computer business from his parent’s Silver Spring home, is seeking more than $12 million from Kraft Foods under Maryland’s anti-spam law designed to protect consumers from misleading messages. His case has implications for how anti-spam laws are interpreted and used in court.

But attorneys for the food giant say Wanger is intentionally attracting spam to his servers to sue for $1,000 for each piece of e-mail. Thousands of e-mails Wagner is suing over, the attorneys say, were forwarded by his brother in California.

After the verdict Thursday, U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte asked lawyers for both sides to make additional arguments about whether the law requires a company to be a bona fide service provider in order to sue for damages.

Roger W. Yoerges, an attorney for Wagner, conceded that his client had spent much of the last few years focused on litigation instead of his computer business, but for good reason: “to be able to sue these spammers and hit them in the wallet so they won’t continue sending spam.”

J. Douglas Baldridge, an attorney for the other defendant in the case, Connexus Corp., said the jury’s decision means that plaintiffs “have to be substantially involved in the business of providing Internet services.”

The defense team, he said, worried that “any person could harvest spam and turn that into a suing machine. What the jury has said is, ‘you

can’t do that’.”

Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.

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