SW Legal Educational Publishing

Spammer Trespassed on AOL and Violated AOL Trademark
Description Owner of a marketing company is held liable for common law trespass and Lanham Act violations for sending 60 million AOL subscribers bulk e-mail ads (spam), despite AOL's warnings to cease.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words Lanham Act; Spamming; Computer Fraud; Trespass
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Internet server AOL sued the owner of a marketing company, Melle, for sending unauthorized bulk e-mail ads (spam) to over 60 million AOL subscribers. Melle continued to send spam after he had been warned by AOL to cease such advertising distribution. Over 50,000 AOL subscribers complained to the company about the ads. AOL claimed violations of the Lanham Act (false designation of origin and dilution of trademarks), violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and trespass to chattels under Virginia common law.
Decision AOL is entitled to summary judgment. "A trespass to chattels occurs when one party intentionally uses or intermeddles with personal property in rightful possession of another without authorization. One who commits a trespass to chattel is liable to the possessor of the chattel if 'the chattel is impaired as to its condition, quality, or value.'" "Melle intentionally caused contact with AOL's computer network by sending bulk e-mail messages." That was unauthorized, and he was warned to cease but continued for several months. Melle's messages also contained the letters "aol.com" in the headers, thereby creating a false designation and damaging an AOL trademark, as AOL subscribers were deceived in to thinking that AOL sponsored or approved the spam.
Citation America Online, Inc. v. IMS, 24 F.Supp.2d 548 (E.D., Va., 1998)

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