Comcast Wins Ruling Against ‘Spammer’

A federal judge sided with Comcast in a case brought by an Illinois-based Internet marketing firm, saying the cable company acted in good faith in trying to block what it deemed was spam from reaching subscribers.

In an April 10 ruling, Judge James Zagel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed a lawsuit filed against Comcast by e360Insight, which was seeking $21.6 million in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages.

While e360 “refers to itself as an Internet marketing company,” the judge wrote, “some, perhaps even a majority of people in this country, would call it a spammer.”

E360 complained that Comcast blocked its mass mailings—which the Web firm claimed were all requested by consumers through opt-in forms—sent back false e-mail bounce information and slowed down its servers. E360 also alleged Comcast violated its First Amendment rights by filtering out e-mail based on keywords.

Zagel said Comcast was protected under a “Good Samaritan” provision of a section of the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 that allows Internet service providers to take steps to stop spam. The operator had invoked the CDA in its motion for judgment in the case.

“Under the law, a mistaken choice to block, if made in good faith, cannot be the basis for liability under federal or state law,” he wrote.

E360 CEO Dave Linhardt, in a statement posted on the company’s site, said the company will appeal the decision.

“For the millions of consumers who have signed up to receive our messages and the tens of thousands who have purchased our products, we believe the e-mail messages they have requested should be delivered for as long as they want to receive them,” Linhardt’s statement said.

Comcast, in asking for the case to be dismissed, called e360 a spammer whose “business practices clog Comcast’s network and its subscribers’ inboxes. Comcast, like other ISPs, filters e-mail flowing through its servers to manage the resources of its network and prevent objectionable e-mails from reaching its subscribers.”

Linhardt continued to maintain that Comcast and others have improperly labeled his company a spammer.

“In our e-commerce business, our customers frequently tell us they love our products and want to receive more of our promotional messages so they can benefit from some of the best deals on the Internet,” Linhardt wrote on the e360 Web site. “Unfortunately for these customers, nearly 90% of them are unable to receive the messages they have requested due to interference by third parties.”