Once again, that truism that old habits die hard has been substantiated. The U.S. District Court of Northern California just awarded Facebook a $711 million judgment against the self-described “spam king,” Sandford Wallace, for violating the CAN-SPAM Act. The CAN-SPAM Act establishes the rules for sending commercial emails and bans “false and misleading” marketing emails.
Wallace and two others were sued by Facebook in February, alleging they used various phishing sites, technologies and other means to gain unauthorized access to Facebook users’ accounts, and then used those same accounts to distribute SPAM throughout Facebook’s network. Specifically, Facebook asserted that Wallace had used the site to induce members to click on messages that appeared to be legitimate, but were actually designed to capture personal information.
Judge Jeremy Fogel wrote in his order, “The record demonstrates that Wallace willfully violated the statutes in question with blatant disregard for the rights of Facebook and the thousands of Facebook users whose accounts were compromised by his conduct.” In addition to the aforementioned monetary judgment, Wallace has been permanently prohibited from accessing or using Facebook, or from creating a Facebook account.
Along with Wallace’s violation of the CAN-SPAM Act, Judge Fogel noted that Wallace “willfully violated” a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction issued earlier in the case against accessing Facebook. The court referred this matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution.
You may recall Wallace’s name being mentioned in the past in the context of anti-spam and/or CAN-SPAM violations. Wallace was a defendant in a similar case in 2008 in which he was ordered to pay MySpace $234 million for similar violations. He was also the target of the FTC in a suit brought in 2006, in which he was fined $4 million after the FTC accused him of running an operation that infected computers with software that caused flurries of pop-up ads, known as “spyware.”
Why This Matters
Interestingly, this not the largest CAN-SPAM award. That honor also belongs to Facebook, who in November 2008 won an $873 million victory against Adam Guerbuez and Atlantis Blue Capital. In all earnest, Facebook realizes the likelihood of enforcing its judgment is remote at best. In fact, Facebook’s lead counsel for litigation and intellectual property remarked on a Facebook blog post: “While we don’t expect to receive the vast majority of the award, we hope that this will act as a continued deterrent against these criminals. This is another important victory in our fight against spam.”
However, this case proves, once again, that even in a dynamic and evolving landscape such as social media, fundamental legal principles, rules and regulations still apply, and have an excellent chance of being enforced by the courts around this country.