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AOL vows to see spammers in court

Having decided there isn't a major spamming operation running in the UK, AOL UK hopes to take action against offenders based elsewhere in the world

AOL UK is gearing up to take legal action against spammers who are based overseas but are sending their wares to its UK email users.

The Internet service provider has decided that there are few judicial steps it can take in Britain to prevent its customers being bombarded by unsolicited commercial email, so its legal team is concentrating on bringing a case against a major spammer in another country.

"It's clear that there isn’t a large-scale spammer operating in the UK that we can sue, so we took the decision last week to consider suing elsewhere on behalf of AOL UK members," Jonathan Lambeth, head of corporate media relations at AOL UK, said on Wednesday.

According to anti-spam campaigners such as Spamhaus, around 200 spammers are responsible for the vast majority of the junk email received by email users. Many of these are said to be based in the US, where AOL could well decide to bring its first legal action.

"It could be that AOL US brings a lawsuit against an American spammer for sending junk mail to AOL UK customers," Lambeth said. He explained that a charge of trespassing on AOL's proprietary network could potentially be brought.

AOL already has a track record of bring legal action against alleged spammers. In April this year, it filed five lawsuits against individuals and companies that it claimed were sending bulk unsolicited e-mail to its members.

On 11 December, the British government's anti-spam law will come into effect. This makes it an offence for a UK company to send unsolicited mail to consumers with whom they don't have an existing business relationship. Opponents of the legislation claim it won't make a significant difference to the problem, because business email addresses aren't covered.

AOL says it is too early to give a verdict on the law, but suggested that the maximum fine -- of £5,000 -- might not be enough to deter a serious offender.