Silverpop - Spamhaus vs. the U.S. District Court
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Spamhaus vs. the U.S. District Court

Bill Nussey, Silverpop
by: Bill Nussey (@bnussey)
17 October 2006

Spamhaus, a volunteer anti-spam organization based in the United Kingdom, is known in the email community as one of the toughest but most widely recognized spam fighters in the world. In a nutshell, it provides a daily list of IP addresses it believes belong to spammers. This list is downloaded by thousands of spam filter programs (including tools by companies like Microsoft) and, according to the Spamhaus site, protects 625 million email users against billions of spam emails a day.

The organization is unique for several reasons. First, you generally have to be a very bad emailer (e.g. spammer) to get on its block list. But, because the block list is so widely used, being listed can be devastating to an emailer's deliverability.

Second, the organization is based outside the United States and has been able to avoid a lot of lawsuits by U.S.-based emailers -- until now.

Earlier this year, one of the emailers on Spamhaus' block list filed a suit in Illinois claiming that Spamhaus unfairly blocked its emails. The court case escalated, and a judgment was entered against Spamhaus for $11.7 million. Claiming that the U.S. court had no jurisdiction over its activities, Spamhaus said it wouldn't pay. I thought this was the end of it, but the U.S. judge decided to take it a step further. The judge reportedly is now considering whether to issue an order for ICANN, the U.S.-based group charged with assigning domain names (e.g. to turn off Spamhaus' URL.

In the long run, the anti-spam implications of this aren't too significant. It would be easy enough for spam filters to simply download the block lists using IP addresses and avoid the need for a domain name. The larger issue at stake here is the ever-sensitive issue of whether the U.S controls the worldwide Internet traffic system. If this fact ends up allowing a U.S. judge to "punish" a company based outside the U.S., we could see some serious fracturing of the current Internet structure as non U.S.-based companies attempt to move their Internet management outside U.S. control.




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