Sanford Wallace has been sentenced to 2 years in jail by the US District court in San Jose for contempt of court and electronic mail fraud. Sanford has been around for more than 2 decades. He is one of the spammers that drove me to learn how to read headers and report spam back in the late nineties.
Sanford has been in and out of courts and the news almost as long as he’s been spamming. When I dug into Pacer this morning to grab a copy of the sentencing report I see multiple cases, some going back as far as 1996. There aren’t electronic records for Concentric Network v. Wallace, et al. (case: 5:96-cv-20829-RMW) but the final disposition of the case says “Permanent Injunction.”
While the Court agreed that AOL had indeed opened its e-mail system to the public, that was not enough to establish that AOL was performing an “exclusive public function” because AOL’s operation of its e-mail system was not an exercise of municipal power or an essential public service. Thus, AOL had a right to block Cyber’s spam to AOL’s members. Netlitigation Review
He started with unsolicited marketing before email. He was a prolific sender of junk faxes. In fact, one of the reasons junk faxing is illegal is directly due to Sanford. As the story goes, when Congress was discussing prohibiting junk faxing, Sanford decided to flood their offices with faxes. This annoyed them so much they made it illegal.
After the death of junk faxing, Sanford moved to email. His first few domains were things like savetrees.com. Because email saves paper or something. In 1996 Sanford sued AOL for blocking his mail. He lost. You can read about the CyberPromotions vs. American Online, Inc. case.
Sanford moved on from email spam in the early 2000s. This was after being involved in many other cases and helping create the body of case law that says ISPs can block spam. He built businesses around advertising and fraud on MySpace and then moved on to Facebook. Facebook took him to court (sound familiar?) and the Facebook case laid the groundwork for the grand jury to indict Sanford on criminal charges.
Many of us who started fighting spam in the late 90s tangled with Sanford. A group of us even sat on a conference call with him to discuss his idea for an email marketing supported backbone. His proposal was free access to consumers, in return for having no email filters and receiving advertising in their mailbox. As long as the consumers opted in to this, I had no real problem with it. I didn’t think it would work, but there wasn’t abuse of other networks involved so more power to him.
His spam supporting network never materialized and he moved on. What he never did was stop finding new ways to intrude on people’s environment to try and sell them something. Maybe his time in jail and the mandatory mental health treatment afterwards will mark a true turning point. But, despite his lawyers claim that he’s finally learned his lesson from the criminal charge, I expect that it’s very possible we still haven’t heard the last of sanford.