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doxer

Publicly documenting spam and spammers

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I run a blog on which I record spam that I receive. The majority of the records I post simply say something like "We have received spam that appears to promote domain X". I am very careful not to say that X is a spammer, unless I have solid evidence to that effect.

Periodically, an (alleged) spammer will notice that my page naming his business or domain ranks rather high in Google searches related to his company and gets upset. In my experience, companies who didn't know that what they were doing was spam tend to be polite and contrite: when someone goes utterly ballistic and starts spewing legal threats, it's a pretty safe sign that they're a hardcore spammer. Also, usually, that they're bluffing.

I've recently received such a message from one individual threatening to drag me, my officers, executives, minor children and domestic livestock into court unless I instantly remove my 'slanderous defamation' of him and his business. (The said 'slanderous defamation' consists of a page listing some of his domains, and a note that I have received unsolicited email advertising those domains).

Incidentally, this is another case of "the louder they scream, the spammier they are" - I hadn't previously paid attention to this guy, but now that I've looked into it, I've discovered a ton of comment spam promoting his business.

So my question is: does anyone have any informed opinion on what is permissible when publicly outing (alleged) spammers? I confine myself to statements of provable fact concerning email received; I even take care to include a disclaimer to the effect that the receipt of spam does not prove that it was sent by the owner of the domain or business. But could a clever lawyer (assuming that the spammer has one - and, in this case, reading his tirade, I'm pretty sure he doesn't) still make the case that a bald statement of fact constituted defamation or libel?

Is there any case law or precedent that anyone can point me to?

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Hi, doxer,

...It sounds like you're doing pretty much what other publicly available services are doing with respect to "outing" spam. Other than doing a thorough search of what's on anti-spam websites as a guide and/ or consulting a lawyer, it seems to me that you are in pretty good shape (IANAL). On the other hand, there seems to be no bounds to individual courts' findings on such matters, so the direction of a reliable lawyer (and maybe a second opinion, as well) seems to me essential in your case. Also note that you might be sued in a different jurisdiction, so you might want to cover that eventuality, as well.

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Just about anyone "here" would be firmly on your side doxer - what you need is proper legal advice. The E360 vs Spamhaus case shows that a "nothing" case brought by an actual spammer (though not for libel) can play out for many years and cost much - well, I understand Spamhaus received pro bono representation but you can bet it still cost them. You are quite right - there is no defamation if published statements are true and honestly represented - but whether or not there are risks only an expert could say.

Plenty of sites list "spamvertized" sites, though not usually in any sort of straight-forward list visible to search engines. McAfee SiteAdvisor has "community reviews" with comments on individual websites, often negative and mentioning email or comment spam promotion. surbl.org and uribl.com have blocklists based on spam sightings with webform and DNS lookup. VirusTotal.com has a URL checker with provision for the submission of comments on websites (including spam "connections") by anonymous or "VT Community" members for subsequent public display on lookup. Those will probably have clear processes to allow a website owner to dispute assertions or, in the case of blocklists, request removal of the URI.

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It has been almost a week, I am curious if you're still getting the threats...?

If you are not in the United States and you know for a fact that your spammer is, I would not worry.

If you are in the U.S. and you know for a fact that your spammer is not, I would not worry.

If your blog/domain has a "privacy" cloak re: the real owner (hiding your name, address, etc.) it makes it harder for the spammer. The worst that could happen is you might get a subpoena in the mail courtesy of your registrar. I am not a fan of privacy cloaks on domains (all mine are registered with my sc addy), but this is one instance where it may be a good idea.

The last word: it is NEVER a good idea EVER to respond directly to any spammer, whether they initially seem reasonable or not.

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It has been almost a week, I am curious if you're still getting the threats...?

The spammer ... pardon me, the alleged spammer ... ;-) ... has not sent any additional threats. However, their first message said, in effect, 'you have X days to comply', and X is not up yet. I may get a message saying "OK, here comes the lawsuit" in a few days time once the deadline passes.

Their initial message was, I suspect, written without the help of a lawyer - it's full of the kind of pseudo-legalese that you see when non-lawyers are trying to sound legal, and contains some bonus predictions of various dire things that could happen to me ("... failure to comply by the party of the first part may constitute barratry and connivance under the Canals & Watersheds Act of the State of Pennsylvania [1879], the maximum penalty for which shall be forfeiture of income, confinement in the pillory and being eaten by wolverines". OK, I made that up, but that's the general idea), apparently in an attempt to frighten me into doing what they want.

My guess is that they have not consulted a lawyer and that if they did consult one, s/he would quickly tell them that they didn't have a case. In that case, depending on how strongly they feel about it, I may get a few more pseudo-legal threats before they get bored, but that's all.

The worst-case scenario is that they decide to push it, and that they find the kind of lawyer who says "Sure, I'll take your money", no matter how weak the case. Said lawyer would then arrange to sue me in some plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction arguing malicious damage to their client's spotless reputation, and I'd have to decide whether to fight it on general principles or not. It looks to me as if I would have a number of very valid defenses against any charge that they might come up with, but for obvious reasons I'd rather that it didn't go that far.

"Of course I've got lawyers. They are like nuclear weapons: I've got 'em 'cause everyone else has. But as soon as you use them they screw everything up." [Danny de Vito, "Other People's Money"]

... it is NEVER a good idea EVER to respond directly to any spammer, whether they initially seem reasonable or not.

True, that.

I may send them the boilerplate message that I send when someone complains, explaining exactly why they're mentioned on my site and including sample messages. In the past, simply demonstrating that I keep a file of evidence has been quite effective in causing other spammers to back down. But in this case, it might just be a case of gasoline on the fire.

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