A spam lawsuit is won
April 24, 2001 5:54 AM   Subscribe

A spam lawsuit is won against now-dead delivery service Kozmo. It's a pyrrhic victory, as Kozmo is now dead and the award was only $77.50. But it should give us all hope.
posted by mtstover (10 comments total)
Oh yeah. Now I have hope that I, too, could win a bogus $77 judgement in a frivolous lawsuit. I hate spam as much as the next guy, but this is ridiculous. In this particular case, I would hardly call a single email, informing me that I had been removed from their mailing list, spam. This woman was just trolling.
posted by jpoulos at 6:42 AM on April 24, 2001

Precedent is a big thing in the case law though. Ramifications could be interesting.
posted by Mick at 6:58 AM on April 24, 2001

This may well be a hollow victory, given that she won't collect. But it's not "pyrrhic," given that she didn't sustain heavy losses of her own in order to achieve the victory. I'd say that I hate to be a stickler about vocabulary, but that wouldn't be true.
posted by anapestic at 8:31 AM on April 24, 2001

I hate to defend myself, but Miram Webster offers a definition of "costly to the point of negating or outweighing expected benefits."

I'd say the costs (hours of time and court costs) outweigh the expected benefits (an almost zero chance of collecting 77 bucks from a defunct dotcom).

To your point, I should have capitalized it: Pyrrhic. Thus referring to Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus, who sustained heavy losses in defeating the Romans.

But now I'm investing way too much of my own time rebutting this post. I may prove my point, but it will only be won by sacrificing my own time; a true Pyrrhic victory.
posted by mtstover at 9:08 AM on April 24, 2001

I'm glad she won the Spam lawsuit, hopefully this will send a message to those who abuse the internet.
posted by ImAlwaysRight at 9:34 AM on April 24, 2001

Spertus, a computer science professor at Mills College in Oakland, said that e-mail "drove her over the edge" and prompted her lawsuit

Huh? A computer science professor who gets driven over the edge by receiving an email? Mills must have quite some CS program...
posted by milnak at 10:26 AM on April 24, 2001

Milnak, a little context:

That e-mail [ the unsub notice] contained news about new services the company was offering and advising her she could opt back in to its list on its Web site.

It wasn't the final unsub message itself that "drove her over the edge," it was the fact that they were using that message to advertise to her, which is why she unsubscribed in the first place.

Okay, still a pretty flaky reason, and not really something that would drive me over the edge, but quite possibly the straw that broke the camel's back.

Besides, being a CS prof she may be just as pissed off (or more) about the blatant abuse of the network that spam is. It's not just a time-consuming nuisance, it's a complete and utter waste of bandwidth, it's dishonest, it's advertising that costs the people being advertised to money, and it's just plain freakin' annoying.

Okay, the edge is now waaaaay back there, so I guess "over the edge" is a reasonable phrase... :-)

Anyway, as has been mentioned, this is a precedence setting case. This is potentially Big News because this wasn't even the most flagrant abuse of the system. Random spam is much much worse than a polluted unsub message.

I find it delicious that there's the typical "Kozmo.com is a blah blah blah..." marketing blurb at the end of the article.

$77.50 seems to me like it could cover your basic court fees (though not a lawyer) for a really small trial. I read on on someone's blog (who is remaining anonmyous, because I don't know if he wants this presented for debate on MeFi) that he had to pay $60 for two (unjust, BTW) court appearances.

obOffTopic: A pyrrhic victory to me means a victory that's just as bad as a loss, ie you faught off the enemy and killed them all, but the only people left in your clan/sect/tribe/settlement/what-have-you are you and Betsy, your loyal (and loving) sheep. In otherwords, you're worse than before you started. I think that applying it here (capitalized or otherwise) is slightly hyperbolic.
posted by cCranium at 11:21 AM on April 24, 2001

Not relevant to spam, but Ellen wrote a flame identification program that was written up in Wired. And she's running for Sexiest Geek Alive. She claims she's a "hyperactivist", so the spam case isn't a surprising thing for her to do.
posted by girlhacker at 11:35 AM on April 24, 2001

Ellen Spertus isn't just anybody. Well, academically, don't ask me; see her CV. Beyond that impressive career, she's an ancient presence on Usenet, and I'm pretty sure she used to be a news(group) administrator. She was involved in efforts to combat the early Usenet spammers (like the Green Card Lawyers), and has a classic paper on Avoiding Online Harassment. (She also wrote a well-known, oft-cited work on the scarcity of female computer scientists.) A more recent work is SMOKEY: Automatic Recognition of Hostile Messages (i.e. a flame filter). In short, she's centrally involved in these issues and fought this on principle, not because she's some hothead.
posted by dhartung at 11:45 AM on April 24, 2001

cCranium, I checked mtstover's link (after I fixed it) to Merriam-Webster, and his usage of "Pyrrhic" (but not "pyrrhic") is not inconsistent with the definition given there.

I would still not use the term given that the person bringing suit was likely more interested in the moral victory, so she probably got what she wanted, and the satisfaction was probably worth the time she put into it. However, an outside observer would likely not think it worth the time, so in that case, mtstover's usage is defensible.

I'm with you that it's a long way from a battle that leaves you crippled to a small-claims court victory where you might not recover your costs so that the usage here does, indeed, seem hyperbolic. However, I think that when a reputable dictionary gives a usage, people can pretty much use it with impunity, and if I had checked M-W (in addition to the sources that I did check), I would not have made the statement that I made.

I think we all have to recognize that a general tendency towards hyperbole has, in some sense, devalued words that are meant to connote extreme situations. If you say that something is "hell" nowadays, you're a long way removed from the fiery pit of eternal torment. In a way this is a shame because when you truly want to be hyperbolic, most people will already be desensitized to any term you might use.
posted by anapestic at 12:51 PM on April 24, 2001

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