Torts I, Pages 82–85

CompuServe Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc.

United States District Court, Southern District of Ohio, 1997

Facts:

Plaintiff, an ISP, provided email accounts to its customers. Defendant sent unsolicited email ads to hundreds of thousands of email addresses, many of which were owned by plaintiff's customers. Plaintiff told defendant to stop, yet they continued to send an increasing volume of spam emails. Plaintiff had tried to block these emails, but defendant modified their emails to circumvent their screening and falsified their origin. Plaintiff's customers were threatening to discontinue their subscription unless the spam was prevented.

Issue:

Did defendant's continued emails constitute a trespass on the chattels?

Defendant's Arguments:

  • Plaintiff suffered no physical damage and therefore should not be allowed to recover.

  • Plaintiff connected their network to the Internet, and therefore gave permission for defendant to connect to their servers to send them emails.

Rule:

Page 84
Restatement Second of Torts § 218

One who commits a trespass to a chattel is subject to liability to the possessor of the chattel if, but only if,

  1. he dispossesses the other of the chattel, or
  2. the chattel is impaired as to its condition, quality, or value, or
  3. the possessor is deprived of the use of the chattel for a substantial time, or
  4. bodily harm is caused to the possessor, or harm is caused to some person or thing in which the possessor has a legally protected interest.

Reasoning:

  • Plaintiff has suffered damage by defendant's intentional intermeddling. The increased load on plaintiff's servers reduces their value even if they are not physically damaged, which constitutes a trespass to chattel under Restatement Second of Torts § 218(b). Plaintiff lost customers from their business, which is a legally protected interest, constituting a trespass to chattel under Restatement Second of Torts § 218(d).

  • One can allow someone permission to use their business and later revoke this permission.

Holding:

Yes, defendant's continued emails constituted a trespass on the chattels. Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction granted. Temporary restraining order extended. Defendant enjoined from sending any unsolicited email ads to any email address maintained by plaintiff.

Like my site?
Slightly less broke than the average law student?
Want to give me money for some reason?

I accept donations!

(Don't feel bad if you don't) (Not tax-deductible)