Spoofers forge e-mail headers to make spam look respectable. ISIPP wants to make them pay.

The Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy (ISIPP) launched a new service to help businesses whose domain names have been highjacked by spammers. ISIPP helps them evaluate and take charge of suing spoofers for trademark infringement.

Spoofing is the practice of forging an e-mail header so that it appears that the e-mail comes from somewhere other than the actual source. It's a tactic used by spammers to get past black lists and fool recipients into opening unsolicited commercial e-mails.

Phishers also spoof domain names, as well as URLs and legitimate Web sites, to trick people into divulging passwords, credit card numbers and other personal information.

Individuals and businesses don't have the right to sue spammers under the CAN-SPAM Act, the national law that became effective January 1, 2004, said Anne Mitchell, president and CEO of the Institute. "Trademark law gives these individual businesses that right of action and can provide immediate restraining orders and freezing of assets."

ISIPP maintains the Spam Law Enforcement Database and the ISIPP E-mail Accreditation Database, sponsors conferences on e-mail and consults with government and businesses on public policy and strategies to fight spam.

Spoofing can cause worlds of woe for the businesses whose domain names are used. Their own mail servers may be overloaded with bounced spam; they may be listed on other companies' and ISPs' block lists, so that legitimate e-mail from the company is rejected; and it can anger customers who think the company spammed them.

ISIPP will help Internet business owners evaluate whether their domain names could be trademarked. Mitchell said one criterion is whether the domain is an online business, rather than a site that provides information about a traditional one. The non-profit will help with the trademark registrant process, and then walk the company through the process of suing the spoofer for trademark infringement. Services include Internet forensics to help identify the culprits and attorney referrals.

"We advise that businesses get the domain name registered as a trademark because it's good business sense, and also it will allow them to sue people who spoof your domain," Mitchell said.

She said there are several advantages to suing for trademark infringement, rather than spam. Trademark law is more easily understood, and there are statutory damages for infringement.

Most important, though, is that trademark laws let a company sue not only the infringer but an entity on whose behalf the infringement was done. While it can be tough to track down spammers, sellers of the products they advertise are relatively easy to find.

"You can sue who ever is sponsoring the spam. And they, in turn, will tell you who the spammer is," she said.

"This tactic gives individual business owners back some of the redress that CAN-SPAM took away," Mitchell said. "We should have figured this out a lot sooner."