WASHINGTON – Claiming a victory against X-rated spam, the Federal Trade Commission (search) late Tuesday won an order to shut down illegal Internet advertising for six companies accused of profiting from sexually explicit e-mail.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Philip M. Pro (search) in Las Vegas granted the commission's request for preliminary injunctions against the companies, their executives and an affiliate, which would last the length of the FTC's civil suit against them. The FTC says the defendants violated federal laws regulating commercial electronic mail, commonly known as spam.
The FTC sought an injunction halting the network's illegal e-mail ads. The judge agreed Jan. 5 to a temporary ban, which he extended Tuesday. Pornographic spam is especially nettlesome because it can be delivered to the electronic mailboxes of children.
Frank Cremen (search), who represents the companies named in the complaint, said his clients have "no quarrel" complying with the law, and that the spamming had stopped before the FTC filed its complaint.
"They've tried to work with the FTC to work this out," Cremen said in a telephone interview.
The case marked the first time the commission took action under a rule that requires a label in the subject line of sexually explicit e-mails, to make it easier for parents and others to filter such messages. The law also holds others liable for operating Web sites that benefit from fraudulent pornographic spam.
"It's not just the people who push the buttons to send spam" who are liable, said Eileen Harrington, director of the FTC's marketing practices division.
The companies named in the FTC complaint operate about 20 Web sites advertised in the illegal e-mails, Harrington said.
Also named in the complaint were Global Net Ventures Ltd., of London, and Wedlake Ltd., which the FTC said is based in Riga, Latvia.
Executives of those companies were named in the complaint along with an individual, Paul Rose. The FTC said Rose sent hundreds of thousands of illegal e-mails directing recipients to the sites operated by the companies named in the filing.
The Associated Press could not locate Rose or an attorney representing him.
The FTC said the e-mails did not include the required "SEXUALLY EXPLICIT" warning in the subject line, falsely promised free membership to the Web sites and gave recipients no way of stopping the unwanted e-mails.
Those requirements are part of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, dubbed "Can Spam," and other federal trade laws. Spammers who violate the rules face possible imprisonment and criminal fines of up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for an organization.
Tracking down violators can be difficult because spammers often hide their identities by using forged return addresses or by bouncing their e-mails through unprotected relay computers on the Internet.
Harrington said the agency located the companies and individuals through e-mails consumers sent the FTC last spring. The defendants, who she said operate as one entity, are barred by the court action from sending out spam but are permitted to operate the Web sites involved.