SAN FRANCISCO | Daniel Balsam hates spam. Most everybody does, of course. But he has acted on his hate as few have, going far beyond simply hitting the delete button. He sues them.
Eight years ago, Mr. Balsam was working as a marketer when he received one too many e-mail pitches to enlarge his breasts.
Enraged, he launched a website called Danhatesspam.com, quit a career in marketing to go to law school and is making a decent living suing companies who flood the inboxes of his 100 e-mail accounts with offers of cheap drugs, free sex and unbelievable vacations.
“I feel like I’m doing a little bit of good cleaning up the Internet,” Mr. Balsam said.
From San Francisco Superior Court small claims court to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Mr. Balsam, based in San Francisco, has filed many lawsuits, including dozens before he graduated law school in 2008, against e-mail marketers he says violate anti-spamming laws.
His many victories are mere rain drops in the ocean considering that Cisco Systems Inc. estimates that there are 200 billion spam messages circulating a day, accounting for 90 percent of all e-mail.
Still, Mr. Balsam settles enough lawsuits and collects enough from judgments to make a living. He has racked up well in excess of $1 million in court judgments and lawsuit settlements with companies accused of sending illegal spam.
His courtroom foes contend that Mr. Balsam is one of many sole practitioners unfairly exploiting anti-spam sentiments and laws. They accuse him of filing lawsuits against out-of-state companies that would rather pay a small settlement than expend the resources to fight the legal claims.
“He really seems to be trying to twist things for a buck,” said Bennet Kelley, a defense lawyer who has become Mr. Balsam’s nemesis over the years in the rough-and-tumble litigation niche that has sprung up around spam.
Mr. Kelley created a website with a similar name, Danhatespam.com, that was critical of Mr. Balsam’s tactics, but which Mr. Kelley let expire.
“There is nothing wrong per se with being an anti-spam crusader,” said Mr. Kelley, who has sued Mr. Balsam twice for allegedly violating confidentiality terms in settlement agreements. “But Dan abuses the processes by using small claims court.
“A lot of people will settle with him to avoid the hassle,” Mr. Kelley said.
Mr. Balsam started small in 2002 in small claims court. By 2008, some of his cases were appearing before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal and he was graduating from the University of California Hastings College of the Law.
“What started just as kicks turned into a hobby, which turned into a career,” Mr. Balsam said. “It’s what triggered me to go to law school.”
Mr. Balsam mostly sues companies he accuses of violating California’s anti-spam law.
Among other restrictions, the law prohibits companies from sending spam with headers that mislead the recipient into believing the e-mail is noncommercial or comes with offers of “free” products that aren’t true. The law also requires a way for Internet consumers to “opt out” of receiving any more spam from a sender.
Mr. Balsam said he has more than 40 small claims victories and several more in higher courts, mostly alleging the receipt of misleading advertising.
In November, he won a $4,000 judgment against Various Inc., an “adult-oriented” social media company that controls AdultFriendFinder .com.
A judge sided with Mr. Balsam, who sued after he received four identical e-mails sent to four different accounts with the identical subject line “Hello my name is Rebecca, I love you.” It’s the fourth time he’s beat Various in court.
The company is appealing the latest ruling and a hearing is scheduled for Jan. 5 in San Francisco Superior Court.
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