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Judges allow America Online, CompuServe to bar junk e-mail

February 5, 1997

Online users who hate ``junk″ e-mail got a break from two federal court rulings against a Philadelphia company.

A federal judge in Columbus, Ohio on Monday barred Cyber Promotions Inc. from sending unsolicited e-mail advertisements _ better known among computer buffs as ``spamming″ _ to CompuServe’s 5 million subscribers.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Philadelphia forbid the bulk e-mailer from falsifying return e-mail addresses, which kept America Online members from blocking the unsolicited messages.

A spokesman for Columbus-based CompuServe Inc. said Wednesday that unsolicited e-mail concerned members because they have to take the time to sift through the junk mail while paying for their time online.

And AOL said the order by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Weiner, out of Philadelphia, will prevent Cyber Promotions from circumventing a tool available to its 8 million members designed to block junk e-mail.

``They can still receive Cyber Promotions junk e-mail if they want but most members don’t, and Cyber Promotions is now legally bound to respect their wishes.″ said AOL’s associate general counsel, David Phillips.

CompuServe sued Cyber Promotions last year, saying its host computers were bogged down with junk e-mail, and that subscribers were complaining about having to sift through their electronic mailboxes while the meter was running on their accounts.

``CompuServe is entitled to restrict access to its private property,″ U.S. District Judge James L. Graham wrote in a 32-page order that will remain in effect until the case is decided at trial or settled.

Three months ago, a federal judge in Philadelphia hearing a case involving Cyber Promotions and AOL, based in Dulles, Va., ruled that junk e-mail is not protected speech under the First Amendment, and that AOL had the right to block its delivery to subscribers.

Graham cited that ruling in rejecting Cyber Promotions’ First Amendment claims.

Cyber Promotions President Sanford Wallace said Tuesday he had not sent any bulk e-mail to CompuServe customers since Graham prohibited him from doing so in a temporary restraining order in October.

Wallace, who said he sends out some 1.8 million e-mail messages a day for 7,000 clients, contends that CompuServe doesn’t want to stop at barring his company.

``CompuServe wanted to set a precedent so they could stop other companies from sending commercial e-mail, and they got what they wanted,″ he said.

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