Anti-Spam Crusader Dan Balsam Takes Spammers To Court -- And Wins

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Dan Balsam' s favorite Monty Python sketch, bar none...
Note to the world: Dan Balsam is tired of his wife receiving e-mail messages promising her a bigger penis. And he has no interest in getting larger breasts.

How much does the San Francisco lawyer hate spam? Enough to initiate the DanHatesSpam.com Web site. Enough, he says, to leave a marketing career and go to law school so he could find a way to stick it to spammers.

Earlier this week, he did just that. A San Mateo County Superior Court Judge ruled that Redwood City's Trancos, Inc. violated a 2004 anti-spam state law, and owe Balsam $7,000 -- $1K for each offending e-mail -- plus legal expenses, "which are significant." You can read the ruling here.

The legal tripping point for Trancos -- which will almost certainly appeal this ruling -- were terms like "your business" and "paid survey" on the "from" line of the e-mails. State law forbids unsolicited e-mails that misstate their source. Garbled subject lines are also not kosher; Judge Marie Weiner ruled one Trancos e-mail promising $5 if a survey was completed to be misleading.

Balsam said that one of the reasons fewer individuals are using the 2004 anti-spam law to file suits like his is that spammers don't exactly flaunt their identities.

Trancos privately registered the domain from which the offending e-mails were sent. The only identifier he could initially find was "USAproductsOnline.com." And the only address for that entity turned out to be a P.O. box at a UPS store. In its application for that P.O. box, Trancos -- A Redwood City-based advertising firm -- wrote "USA Products Online" as the company applying for the box, not "Trancos," according to Balsam.  So when the lawyer subpoenaed the UPS store, the name Trancos didn't come up. An address did, however -- and he traced it back to Trancos via an Internet search.

Balsam claims that "USA Products Online" is not a registered fictitious business name or legal company: "Trancos has like half a dozen divisions of its company and every other division properly registered its fictitious business name with the San Mateo County Clerk," he says. Yet the portion of the company he alleges is in charge of spam did not.

The lawyer's legal victory over the spammers is not precedent-setting; Superior Court rulings do not establish case law. However, if Trancos appeals this case -- and all indications are it will -- the ruling of the court of appeals would establish case law.

Since the appeal is pending, Balsam doesn't have his $7,000 in hand yet. But if and when he gets it, "I will probably invest it back into more attorney fees to bring more cases" against Spammers.

And, to reiterate, he doesn't want larger breasts or a bigger penis. 



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