NEW YORK The popular online hangout MySpace has won a $234 million judgment over junk messages sent to its members in what is believed to be the largest anti-spam award ever, The Associated Press has learned.
A federal judge ruled against two of the Internet's most prominent spam defendants, Sanford Wallace and Walter Rines, after the two failed to show up at a court hearing.
Wallace has earned the nicknames "Spamford" and "spam king" for his past role as head of a company that sent as many as 30 million junk e-mails a day in the 1990s.
"MySpace has zero tolerance for those who attempt to act illegally on our site," said MySpace's chief security officer, Hemanshu Nigam. "We remain committed to punishing those who violate the law and try to harm our members."
Rines and Wallace worked in concert to create their own MySpace accounts or take over existing ones by stealing passwords, Nigam said.
They then e-mailed other MySpace members, he said, "asking them to check out a cool video or another cool site. When you go there, they were making money trying to sell you something or making money based on hits or trying to sell ring tones."
MySpace said the pair sent 735,925 messages to MySpace members. Under the 2003 federal anti-spam law known as CAN-SPAM, each violation entitles MySpace to $100 in damages, tripled when conducted "willfully and knowingly."
It's a big victory for MySpace, although service providers often have a tough time collecting such awards. But even if the News Corp.-owned site never collects, it hopes the judgment will deter other spammers.
"Anybody who's been thinking about engaging in spam are going to say, 'Wow, I better not go there,"' Nigam said. "Spammers don't want to be prosecuted. They are there to make money. It's our job to send a message to stop them."
The Los Angeles-based company described the amount of the award as a "landmark."
John Levine, a board member for the anti-spam advocacy group Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, said that past spam judgments he knows of have been in the tens of millions of dollars.
He said he would be surprised, though, if MySpace ever collected.
"The giant judgments are all defaults, which means they don't necessarily even know how to find the spammer," Levine said.
There was no telephone listing for Wallace in the Las Vegas area, where he is last known to live. Service was disconnected for two listed numbers for Rines in Stratham, N.H., his last known address; a third number was unlisted.
U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins in Los Angeles awarded $157.4 million jointly against Rines and Wallace and an additional $63.4 million against Rines under CAN-SPAM plus $1.5 million more against the pair under California's anti-phishing law.
MySpace has another anti-spam case pending against a high-profile defendant, Scott Richter, who it claims gained access to MySpace profiles using stolen passwords and then sent spam bulletins from those accounts.
MySpace said the junk messages from Wallace and Rines came after Richter's.
MySpace said it has since implemented features warning members when they're about to follow links that take them to sites outside MySpace.