Firms Liable for Buying Ill-Gotten Email Lists

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If you buy a defective product and something goes wrong, it's usually themanufacturer of the product -- not the hapless user -- who faces legalliability.

But when it comes to email spam, the message from New York's intrepidAttorney General Eliot Spitzer is clear: Knowingly buy a crappy emaillist and you could be in big trouble!

Last month, Spitzer announced the settlement of a lawsuit against DatranMedia, an email and Internet marketing company. Datran had been chargedwith unfair and deceptive trade practices for sending emailadvertisements to recipients whose email addresses had been bought, inviolation of a privacy policy, from another firm called Gratis Internet.

Gratis Internet, which operates a number of websites where it collectsemail addresses by offering to give away iPods and other goodies, had aprivacy policy that promised plainly that it would never sell or rent theemail addresses that it collected. It then, according to Attorney GeneralSpitzer, proceeded to do sell or rent the email addresses it collected.

Predictably, Datran defended itself by saying that it had no way ofknowing that the email addresses it bought from Gratis were the productof any misdeeds of Gratis, and that it shouldn't be held accountable forany of its vendors' crimes. But Spitzer argues that if Datran had madeeven a cursory inquiry into the source of the email addresses, theproblem would have been apparent.

In fact, according to Spitzer, his office's investigation ''revealed thatDatran knew of Gratis' promise to consumers when it purchased theconsumer lists. But after obtaining these lists, Datran sent millions ofunsolicited emails to the listed consumers.''