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Spam Trail Leads Blogger To Defamation Suit

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A California blogger becomes one of the latest to be dragged into court after an inflammatory blog post. A brief tale about tracking down a spammer, which also held the accused personal contact information, won Jerry Baker a defamation lawsuit. The case also illustrates the potential pitfalls of Internet research.

In late December, Baker published a blog post detailing how he got the name and phone number of a spammer, and then proceeded to call him "to let him know how I feel about their spam."

According to Baker, he had been receiving a large amount of image spam from an online pharmacy called RXCart.org, a site that sells prescription pills in bulk. In the blog post, Baker alleged that RXCart.org orders were processed by Health Solutions Network, whom he also assumes is responsible for the spam.

Health Solutions Network is run by Ralph Penton, a Washington state resident, easily enough found through public information published on the Internet. Health Solutions Network took about as kindly to the spammer accusations as Penton did about being told off on the telephone by a complete stranger.

Penton and his company filed suit against Baker, alleging defamation, tortious interference with contracts, restraint of trade, trademark infringement and trademark dilution, fraud, and harassment by phone.

Baker shouldn’t have been surprised by being served the papers. The company came right on his blog and gave him notice in the comments section. Among their objections:

Health Solutions Network, LLC (HSN) does not currently, nor has the Company ever processed orders for RxCart.org. Your claim to that effect is not accurately founded and is false. This we can prove.

In the case you cite in your BLOG, you have found HSN because the clever spammer wanted you to. The spammer is hiding behind an attractive target to divert the vigilant attention of fed up, but uninformed individuals. [...]

The Conclusion in your BLOG that HSN is a spammer is completely and totally false.

Informing your readership to follow the same path that you did to HSN is irresponsible and uninformed and has resulted in possible criminal harassment. HSN has filed a complaint with the Snohomish County Police Department. [...]

In addition, the phone company is now working in conjunction with the sheriff’s department actively tracing all inbound phone calls that are made to the phone number listed on the original blog post. All calls will be treated as harassment and acted on accordingly.

If HSN’s defense is accurate, then there are two important takeaways from this case, both related to Internet research. The first is that the Web is well-suited for clandestine, nearly anonymous tomfoolery. For those that know what they’re doing, it’s easy to be somebody else.

The second thing we learn is that privacy for the non-hackers out there may be a thing of the past. Nobody knows better than Google’s Eric Schmidt Google+balances+privacy%2C+reach/2100-1032_3-5787483.html”>how easy it is to get a wealth of kinda-sorta-public-but-kinda-sorta-private information off the Web.

Via Media Law Resource Center

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Spam Trail Leads Blogger To Defamation Suit
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