Of the 15 suits, 12 were filed in Microsoft's home state, Washington, another in California, and the other two in London. The cases go after spammers, which Microsoft accuses of using deception and fraud in their unsolicited commercial bulk e-mail. Washington state law allows Internet service providers to file suit against spammers.
"We recognize spam is a big problem and we need a coordinated partnership," said Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and senior vice president, during a news conference. "We at Microsoft are ramping up our efforts to combat spam around the world."
"We must get tough on spammers," she said. "It's become obvious that our delete key will not solve the problem."
In one case, Microsoft accuses two Dayton, Ohio, companies, Email Gold and NetGold, and three individuals of sending repeated offers for a how-to spam kit to its members using falsified MSN and Hotmail domains. In another case, Microsoft alleges a Haddonfield, N.J., company, The E-Offer Store, sent spam using fake subject lines. Other cases involve either false subject lines or spoofed domain names. Two cases list the defendants as John Doe.
Both of the civil cases filed in the UK revolve around the harvesting of e-mail addresses to build spam databases. Both defendants are unnamed.
Smith said Microsoft would seek to have the spammers both shut down, as well as financial penalties.
Gregoire said financial penalties were key in the fight against spam. As it stands, a spammer can buy a CD of e-mail addresses for a few dollars and send out millions of unsolicited e-mails for a small cost. Stiff financial penalties would alter the cost-benefit analysis, she said.
"At the end of the day, this is all about economics," Gregoire said.
Microsoft is the latest major ISP to target spammers. EarthLink made hay with its pursuit of Howard Carmack, known as the "Buffalo Spammer." The Atlanta ISP won a $16 million judgment against Carmack in May, and a week later he was arrested by New York state authorities. Last July, EarthLink won a $25 million judgment in another spam case.
AOL, likewise, has hit spammers with legal actions. In April, it filed five lawsuits seeking $10 million in damages against spammers it claims are responsible for more than 8 million customer complaints.