Sat, Nov. 26, 2005

Mailorder Spam Liability

CK - Washington.   In an alert to a German legal mailing list, Bert Handschumacher notes a new case extending contributory liability for violation of the German anti-spam statute to non-mailers.

On November 22, 2005, the Berlin district court issued an injunction against a reputable mail order company that had established an affiliate program allowing others to link to its web site and earn compensation for click-throughs. Certain spammers used their affiliate credits in unwanted commercial advertisements that they emailed to non-subscribers.

The court orderd the mail order company to cease and desist, at a penalty of 250,000 Euros for future violations, from contributing to further spam sent to the plaintiff in the matter 15 O 710/05, and imposed costs on the defendant under §97 of the Civil Procedure Code. The court found a single email sufficient to trigger the imminent and substantial danger of more spam being generated through the same means, Wiederholungsgefahr per §1004(1) of the Civil Code. A local court in Mettmann, in the matter 21C 161/05, had recently considered a single spam email insufficient, and the Dresden district court had also rejected liability for a single email, in the matter 114 C 2008/05, but those decisions are unknown to have become final and have generated great criticizm.

While those matters involved the direct liability of a sender, the Berlin case is important because it imposes the liability on a contributor, the - likely unintended - enabler of the spam scheme that probably thought itself law-abiding but became a victim of its own success when it offered an irresistable affiliate program. The Berlin decision complements a strict approach to dealing with individual emails. The enforcement of the internet laws to indirect enablers of spam has also extended to domain name administrators who, in all practical experience, are generally the most exposed persons on the internet and the least likely to actively pursue internet crimes.

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