SLAPP Lawsuits by Jerry Reynolds

One of the sad facts of life is that truly despicable people often do very well. One example is the fact that spamming often pays. Just as an unethical businessman who cares nothing about the environment can make more money than one who does, a spammer who cares nothing about the harm they do to others' on-line experience can reap great benefits by exploiting the resource that is the internet. It's the tragedy of the commons in cyberspace.

Another unfortunate thing is that having made money in despicable ways, the spammer can then use the legal system to attack and silence those who would fight spam.

The abuse of the legal system to silence criticism has a long and ugly history. In the trade, such lawsuits are known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). A SLAPP lawsuit does not need to be meritorious; it simply needs to be so expensive to defend against that the critics will cave in rather than fight for their rights to free speech.

More about SLAPP lawsuits can be found at Chilling Effects.

Sadly, SLAPP lawsuits by spammers against spam-fighters are not unusual. Perhaps best known for this practice is UUNet, which has used the legal system on more than one ocasion to silence critics of their pro-spam policies.

I now find myself the victim of a SLAPP lawsuit.

Background

Netzilla is one of over 400 spammers and spam-supporting internet sites which I monitored in the mid 90's through about 2001. (The complete list can be found at list of sites being monitored.

Netzilla, for a while, was the single largest source of spam on usenet.

Several independent observers were able to track the ownership of Netzilla to Jerry Reynolds. See notable documents for more information.

25 Aug 2004 — Cease-and-Desist letters

On 25 Aug 2004, Jerry Reynolds' lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding that I remove this web page.

I double-checked the web page, updated it slightly, and left the bulk of it unchanged, as it was — and still is — factually correct to the best of my knowledge.

I received another letter from Reynolds' lawyer saying that this wasn't good enough, that there were still defamatory things in the web page (but declining to say what those defamatory things were), and insisting the entire web page be removed. I ignored this letter.

18 Feb 2005 — Lawsuit Filed

One Sunday morning, I received a phone call from a reporter named Dave Forster in North Dakota informing me that a "John Doe" lawsuit had been filed against me in Reynolds' home town of Fargo, ND. See In-Forum news article Porn spam allegation brings suit (registration may be required). This was the first that I heard that Reynolds was following through with his threats.

I consented to an interview with Forster, and this article appeared that Wednsday

[As an aside, note the use of Dave Forster's name in this usenet news thread which began on the 22nd of February.]

The actual complaint is available here [pdf].

21 Feb 2005 — Rogue Cancels

Shortly before the Forum article appeared, rogue cancels started being issued from newsfeeds, against old netnews articles documenting Netzilla spam.

At the time of the cancels, Google Groups was accepting cancels, and so the cancelled articles were removed from the Google archive. Luckily, backup copies of the deleted articles were obtained and some can be found here:

Re: Who is corpcomm.net? 1996/12/06
howardkE20HKM.LB7@netcom.com
Spammer Makes Me Angry >:( 1996/12/24
howardkE2xEox.31w@netcom.com
Re: Spammer Makes Me Angry >:( 1996/12/24
howardkE2xFCH.3qy@netcom.com
Spam Autocancel report for March 1997 1997/04/02
5huf6u$ee3@ornews.intel.com
Re: MCI + WorldCom = Adios to Usenet 1997/11/12
64bgss$dft$1@news1.exit109.com
Re: COMPUSERVE under Full Active UDP 1997/11/19
64u21r$m5b$1@feedme.news.iswest.net
Re: Mark Worthy, Netzilla Croney? 1998/01/23
adVx.5$29.593540@news.connectnet.com
Mark Worthy, Netzilla Croney? 1998/01/22
%TDx.9$u8.680623@news.connectnet.com
REPOST: CEI.NET, Neglegent and Clueless ISP? You be the Judge! 1998/08/24
REPOST-11907.6365966797.E38E1.31$Ro6.570737@news.connectnet.com
CEI.NET, Neglegent and Clueless ISP? You be the Judge! 1998/08/24
E38E1.31$Ro6.570737@news.connectnet.com
Spam Cancel Report, BI = 66.408 (reynolds/QUEBECTEL.COM): Jan 26, 1999 1999/01/26
reynolds.917333431@news.iswest.com
Re: Group Server Law 1999/07/05
7lp5b1$chu$1@nnrp02.primenet.com
Time to De-Peer NEWSFEEDS.COM 1999/07/20
7n1qp2$sv9$1@nnrp03.primenet.com

A more complete list, along with the original forged cancels can be found in Forged Cancels from newsfeeds.com

Paperwork

Since that time, I have been deluged with paperwork from Reynolds' lawyers. The stack is over nine inches thick at this point. As near as I can tell, the purpose of this mass of paperwork is to simply increase my own legal bills.

Choice samples from this stack will be scanned and posted as time permits.

Second lawsuit — May, 2005

In June, I received notice that another SLAPP suit had been filed against David Ritz, another spam fighter. I am named as a co-defendent in this lawsuit. My paperwork load has now doubled.

As near as I can tell, Ritz is being sued for "accessing Sierra Corporate Design's servers". I am named as a co-defendent for reposting some of the information Ritz obtained.

As part of this lawsuit, Reynolds obtained an injunction, and I am now forbidden to discuss Reynolds' servers in any way.

Oh, and what is Ritz accused of doing? You'll love this. Anauthorized whois and dns lookups.

Spamkiller.net — Aug, 2005

In April of 2005, an admin from koehntopp.de wrote in in the news.admin.net-abuse.usenet newsgroup asking for information about spamkiller.net.

I responded that spamkiller.net is registered anonymously, and that this was an indication that the business was probably not legitimate:

Here's a hint:  If you do e.g. "whois spamkiller.net", you get an 
ANONYMOUS registration.  (Does Icann even permit this?  Apparently 
Network Solutions does.)

No legitimate business hides their identity.

Note that I never mentioned Jerry Reynolds by name, nor any of his business domains.

In August, Jerry Reynolds's law firm sent a fax to Google demanding that the usenet posts be removed from the archive under a court order issued in North Dakota. Read all about it at Chilling Effects.

The complete court order [pdf] used by Reynolds to censor the Google archives is the court order issued by the North Dakota courts forbidding Dave Ritz and "all persons acting in concert with him" from publishing information about Sierra's servers. Reynolds apparently argues that my statement that "No legitimate business hides their identity." constitutes publishing information about Sierra's servers

Deposition — 6 Nov 2005

Reynolds has obtained a lawyer in California who has served me with a subpeona to appear [pdf] in two days and hand over all of my computers so that he can copy the disks.

Lesson learned: freedom of speech isn't free. On Tuesday I learn what mine is going to cost me.

It remains to be argued how much jurisdiction North Dakota has over me here in California. More on this story as it develops.

The story in detail

Things get very busy after this point. See Documents for the full story as told in court documents.

Resolution — 9 Mar 2006

The courts have ruled that Reynolds does not have jurisdiction over me in North Dakota. In other words, I've "won" in the sense that Reynolds was unable to harm me as much as he'd hoped.