posted Oct 12, 2000

Spam blacklist battle goes to court
Spam & E-Mail
10/12/2000; 3:54:23 PM

'In a case with a host of free speech and e-commerce-related legal implications, a San Jose judge today is scheduled to consider arguments in a lawsuit involving the conduct of Mail Abuse Prevention System, or MAPS, a widely used Peninsula company set up to help companies screen junk e-mail.

'Under attack from companies that have wound up on its so-called ``Blackhole List'' of junk e-mailers, MAPS filed suit this spring seeking a definitive ruling from a California court that its practices do not violate any laws. The target of the suit was Black Ice Software, a New Hampshire maker of software tool kits that had threatened legal action over being placed on the Blackhole List....

'``We're no different than a restaurant reviewer at the Mercury News saying `Don't go to this restaurant,' '' said Anne Mitchell, legal director for MAPS. ``People are free to go there or not. It's just opinion protected by the First Amendment.''

'Companies like Black Ice disagree. Lawyers for Black Ice could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but in court papers they have depicted MAPS as recklessly disseminating false information. Critics of the Redwood City company maintain it has accumulated too much control over what Internet messages reach their destinations.'

I think MAPS' position is literally correct. They are no different then a restaurant reviewer. This case should then be run as a libel procedure, where MAPS will almost certainly come out on top, because of their precise definition of who gets placed on their list, and their ability to substantiate placement of people on their list (a statement is not slanderous if it can be proven true, and MAPS' statements are quite clear and easy to prove).

This is the inactive-central-host problem, just like Napster. Napster does not move MP3 files. MAPS does not filter e-mail. Napster users are moving MP3 files around, RBL users are filtering e-mail. Can the central organization be held responsible for the actions of their users. The right answer is no, the answer I see coming is yes. Sadly, I think we're answering "yes" out of convenience, not out of logic or justice. It's just easier to go after the central source, so let's do it.

So what would you then do about a totally decentralized block list? (Such a thing could be easily created.)


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