Social networking site Facebook today won an $873 million court judgment against a spammer who has been routinely deluging the site with sales pitches and sexually explicit messages.
According to an Associated Press report, the judgment against Adam Guerbuez of Montreal is the largest ever awarded under the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act. The award is more than three times as much as Facebook will gross in revenue this year.
Facebook doesn't expect to collect the money; the report states that Guerbuez has been "difficult to find" since he was sued in August. But social networking sites are hoping that such a large judgment will deter other spammers from abusing their sites.
"Everyone who participates constructively in Facebook should feel confident that we are fighting hard to protect you against spam and other online nuisances," said Max Kelly, Facebook's director of security, on the company's blog yesterday.
The judgment isn't the first victory that the social networking sites have had against spammers. In May, MySpace won a $230 million default judgment against Sanford "Spamford" Wallace and a business partner. In June, MySpace received a $6 million settlement from Scott Richter, whose company, Media Breakaway, allegedly sent unwanted ads to users. In both cases, the spammers were also "difficult to find."
The lawyers who prosecute such cases are hopeful that the defendants will eventually be found and made to pay something against the awarded damages. But most legal experts agree that such large judgments are mainly a public relations effort designed to demonstrate that both the social networking sites and the courts are serious about doing something to stop spam.
"It's essentially letting the world know you're tough about this and creating some deterrents," said Eric Sinrod, a partner at Duane Morris in San Francisco, in an interview earlier this year.
But other legal experts say the judgments only serve to push the spammers further underground. Most spammers choose not to contest the lawsuits -- which is one reason why the judgments against them keep getting bigger -- and they can easily evade payment by simply setting up shop in another country, where they may be difficult to find and extradite to the U.S.
Still, social networking sites may have one legal weapon that hasn't been available in other CAN-SPAM lawsuits -- a contract. To participate in Facebook or MySpace, a user must agree to abide by the system's rules and practices. And if the courts can prove that a spammer has violated that contract, it may be much more difficult for spammers to wiggle out of judgments against them, the experts say.
The suit against Guerbuez accused him not only of violating laws against spam, but of breach of contract as well, which is one reason why Facebook was able to get such a huge award, the experts say. Violation of the CAN-SPAM Act alone carries a penalty of just $100 per incident -- triple that if it's done on purpose.
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