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Spamhaus fights US court domain threat

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Spamhaus is at risk of losing its domain because of court action by a firm it has labelled as a spammer.

The threat comes after the anti-spam organisation refused to comply with a September ruling by a US court requiring it to pay $11.7m in compensation to e360 Insight, pull the organisation's listing, and post a notice stating that it was wrong to say e360 Insight was involved in sending junk mail.

UK-based Spamhaus Project declined to defend itself, arguing that the US courts had no jurisdiction in the case. The voluntary organisation ignored the Illinois court on principle amid concern that fielding a defence might open it up to a barrage of nuisance lawsuits by spammers aggrieved that its activities are frustrating their ability to deliver junk mail.

The same Illinois court is now considering going ahead with a draft order (PDF) asking ICANN to pull domain records for Spamhaus.org, a move that could unleash a tide of junk mail.

Spamhaus's "blacklist" of IP addresses used by spammers helps ISPs and large organisations to weed out junk mail traffic. Loss of the domain would impair the effectiveness of the service, at the very least. Though this still leaves the possibility that Spamhaus could move onto a separate domain not under US control, such an action might lead to US judges ruling Spamhaus in criminal contempt.

"If the domain got suspended, it would be an enormous hit for the net," Steve Linford, Spamhaus's chief exec told AP. "It would create an enormous amount of damage on the internet."

Spam experts reckon that web-savvy Spamhaus users would still be able to get hold of its list and that end-users would be unlikely to see their inboxes clogged up with junk mail even if the proposed order was filed and ICANN ruled against Spamhaus. Spamhaus is urging calm, arguing that ICANN is unlikely to suspend the spamhaus.org domain.

"We believe a government agency would have to step in before it happened. One US government agency has begun working on a response. Before an event such as this could occur, we believe ICANN would fight the order, as ICANN understands both the technical effect as well as the political one (hint: ITU and US control of the internet)," it said in a statement on the latest developments in the case.

Bart Loethen, a lawyer for e360, told AP that his client had every right to go after Spamhaus's domain. "They are thumbing their nose at an order of the court," Loethen said. "What else can we do?"

The issue has sparked a lively debate on the net with some deriding the court's decision while others, such as law professor Matthew Prince, comments that Spamhaus has been ill-advised in its handling of the case. ®

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