The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a case alleging that Kraft spammed an Internet service provider (ISP) with advertisements for its Gevalia® coffee products. Beyond Systems, Inc. v. Kraft Foods, Inc., No. 13-2137 (4th Cir., order entered February 4, 2015). Beyond Systems sued Kraft alleging violations of Maryland’s and California’s anti-spam statutes, but the circuit court agreed with the district court’s determination that Beyond Systems “invited its own purported injury and thus could not recover for it.”
Beyond Systems is a Maryland ISP with servers housed at the residence of the owner’s parents, and the owner’s brother owns Hypertouch, Inc., a similar “nominal” ISP with servers in California. Both ISPs host websites with hidden email addresses that only “spam crawlers” can find, and Beyond Systems uses the email addresses as “spam traps”; the court notes that “spam-trap-based litigation has accounted for 90% of Beyond Systems’ income in recent years.”
These spam-trap addresses apparently received hundreds of emails advertising Kraft’s Gevalia® coffee that allegedly contained false headers in violation of anti-spam statutes.
The court classified the Maryland and California anti-spam statutes as tort-based, noting that a tort cannot be committed upon a willing person. Accordingly, the recipient of a spam message may not seek out the message then allege a tort for receiving the message. “Beyond Systems increased its e-mail storage capacity to retain a huge volume of spam, by which it hoped to increase its eventual recovery under anti-spam statutes,” the court found. “And it intentionally participated in routing spam e-mail between California and Maryland to increase its exposure to spam and thereby allow it to sue under both states’ laws.” Because Beyond Systems consented to receiving the emails, the circuit court affirmed the district court’s ruling in favor of Kraft.