A man who collected thousands of spam e-mail messages for the purpose of suing spammers found his efforts blocked by a federal appeals court in San Francisco today.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit filed by James Gordon of Richland, Wash., against online marketer Virtumundo, Inc.

The court said that Gordon had voluntarily created a “litigation mill” and hadn’t suffered the kind of harm from the spam that would have allowed him to sue under a federal anti-spam law.

Gordon and friends and relatives he recruited received thousands of unsolicited commercial e-mails, commonly known as spam, beginning in 2003 through an Internet domain he created.

He filed numerous lawsuits, including at least 10 in federal court in Seattle, against marketing companies for allegedly violating a law enacted by Congress in 2003.

In the lawsuit against Virtumundo, he sought $10 million in damages for 13,800 spam messages the company allegedly sent to him and his associates.

The U.S. law is titled the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, or the CAN-SPAM Act.

It requires commercial e-mailers to allow recipients to opt out of receiving spam and also bans deceptive subject headings.

It allows federal and state agencies to sue for violations and also provides a limited right of private lawsuits by Internet access service providers who have been harmed by spam.

The appeals court said Gordon didn’t qualify to sue under the law because his domain wasn’t an Internet access service provider and because he hadn’t suffered the type of operational or financial harm envisioned by Congress.

Circuit Judge Richard Tallman wrote, “Despite what Gordon and likeminded anti-spam enthusiasts might contend, the purpose of the CAN-SPAM Act was not to stamp spam out of existence.”

Tallman wrote, “There are beneficial aspects to commercial e-mail, even bulk messaging, that Congress wanted to preserve, if not promote.”

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