Stopping Spam with Poetry and the Law

“Get rid of your debts!”
“University Degree!”
Looks like spam to me.

In the vicious battle for your Inbox, one Silicon Valley startup says it has a way to deal spammers its own brand of “poetic” justice.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Habeas, Inc., Monday came out of stealth mode and announced its new Sender Warranted E-mail (SWE) service.

Free to individuals and ISPs, the service works by trademarking and copyrighting a unique set of lines, known as the warrant mark, which is embedded in the headers of outgoing e-mail.

Included in the warrant mark is a haiku poem – a traditional Japanese poem having three lines containing usually 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively. For example:

winter rainy day
playing in the big puddle
water everywhere

The company said the copyright offers legal protection to the poetry and the trademark offers legal protection to other parts of the e-mail header.

Spam is a problem that Habeas said needed something new and different to combat. Unsolicited e-mail costs consumers and corporations billions of dollars a year, according to industry figures, with estimates the bandwidth costs alone of spam exceed $8 billion annually. By 2006, spam output will soar seven-fold to around 15 billion messages a day, according to market research firm Radicati Group.

Spammers who improperly use the Habeas warrant mark can be prosecuted under trademark and copyright law. In some cases Habeas said it could seek penalties of $1 million and more, shut down offenders through injunction, and in severe cases refer them for criminal prosecution. Dun & Bradstreet has agreed to serve as Habeas’ collection agency.

“Existing law offers little protection from spammers, who also continue to find new ways to beat even the most sophisticated filtering technologies,” said Habeas president and CEO Anne P. Mitchell, who is a former legal affairs director for Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS) and noted anti-spam attorney. “Technology alone can’t stop spam. But existing copyright and trademark law used in conjunction with Habeas’ patent-pending system allows us to sue and shut down spammers while protecting legitimate senders of mail.”

Habeas said it has already signed up industry-leading firms with its new service, including Microsoft (Quote, Company Info )/WebTV and Hong Kong-based Outblaze, an outsourcing company providing the messaging technology services behind some of the world’s largest and best known e-mail providers including Chinadotcom Corp., Lycos Asia,, as well as off-line, such as Telekom Malaysia, Sanrio Corp. (makers of Hello Kitty).

Mitchell said Habeas complements existing anti-spam solutions including the popular SpamAssassin product and

“Having built the Habeas warrant mark into our SpamCure and SpamRepellent anti-spam e-mail solutions, we are helping enterprises and companies separate what is valid commercial e-mail from unsolicited commercial e-mail (or spam),” said president and CEO Ben Westbrook.

The Habeas solution is also designed to work with existing services such as the Spamhaus Project that help ISPs battle unwanted e-mail by maintaining comprehensive lists of offending Internet sites that spam.