This is a story I picked up at the San Francisco Chronicle website that ought to spur lawsuits all over the country. This is reporter Bob Egelko's account:
"A judge has awarded a San Francisco attorney $7,000 in damages in a rare trial under California's anti-spam law - $1,000 for each unsolicited, misleading commercial e-mail he received. Daniel Balsam, who started suing spammers even before he graduated from law school in 2008, filed suit against Trancos Inc., a Redwood City advertising company, over a series of ads that showed up in his personal e-mail in-box in 2007.
The 'from' line in each e-mail named a nonexistent source - for example, 'Your Promotion,' 'Paid Survey' or 'Join Elite.' At least one message had a subject line, promising recipients $5 to complete a survey, that the judge described as misleading. None of the advertising e-mails named Trancos, which sent all the messages.
The ads violated California's 2004 anti-spam law, Judge Marie Weiner of San Mateo County Superior Court said in a March 10 ruling. The law prohibits sending an uninvited commercial e-mail from California, or to a California recipient, that misrepresents either the source or the subject.
The federal government has a similar law, but it allows suits only by the government or an Internet service provider and not by individual recipients. California allows suits by consumers and provides damages of $1,000 for each serving of spam, even if, like Balsam, the recipient didn't accept any of the offers and lost no money. Some anti-spam suits have been tried in small-claims courts, but lawyers on both sides of Balsam's case said it appeared to be the first to go to trial in Superior Court. Weiner presided over the nonjury proceedings in October.
'Advertisers who work to hide their identities are violating consumer trust,' said Timothy Walton, Balsam's lawyer in the case.
Trancos' lawyer, Robert Nelson, described his client as 'a successful, ethical Internet advertising business,' and said it would appeal the ruling. He argued that spam is largely regulated by federal law and that only a consumer who is actually defrauded and suffers losses - which Balsam did not claim - is entitled to sue under state law. Weiner rejected that argument in her ruling, saying Congress allowed states to prohibit deceptive e-mail headers, subject lines and content. She said Trancos had deliberately sought to 'impair a recipient's ability to identify, locate or respond to it as the initiator of the e-mail' and is liable for damages."
Pretty cool, huh!