Spammer To Pay Damages After Court Victory
John Lewis has been ordered to pay damages for sending "spam" emails in a privacy ruling that could open the floodgates for harassed consumers.
Roddy Mansfield, who is a producer for Sky News, brought the case under EU legislation that prohibits businesses from sending marketing emails without consent.
At a county-court hearing a judge ruled the company acted unlawfully as it could not prove Mr Mansfield had agreed to receive the emails or was one of their customers.
It is the third time Mr Mansfield has secured damages for receiving unsolicited emails but the first time an individual has won damages following a ruling on the legislation.
Previous spam cases won by default include Gordon Dick who secured £1,300 for a single email from Transcom Internet Services and Steve Higgins who was awarded £810 from a home-shopping firm.
Mr Mansfield began receiving the promotional emails after registering his details with John Lewis' website which opted-him-in for marketing using a pre-ticked consent box.
But an EU law drafted in 2003 makes it an offence to send unsolicited emails unless a customer is aware they have been opted-in.
Mr Mansfield issued proceedings under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations arguing it was for John Lewis to prove he consented and after a short hearing the judge ruled in his favour.
Mr Mansfield said: "John Lewis argued that because I had not opted-out of receiving their emails, I had automatically opted-in.
"But an opportunity to opt-out that is not taken is simply that. It does not convert to automatic consent under the law and companies risk enforcement action if they use pre-ticked boxes.
"John Lewis' lawyers then argued that because I browsed their website I had "negotiated" with them for a sale and a business relationship existed between us which would allow them to email me. The judge threw that out too."
Some 100 billion spam emails are sent to consumers every day according to Cyren's Internet Threats Trends report for 2013.
Richard Cox, of anti-spam organisation Spamhaus, said: "As the Information Commissioner cannot take action on individual breaches of the law, the only way to stop this annoying type of spam is for individuals to take action themselves.
"Only the individual in each case will know whether they consented to their details being harvested for this type of activity. Hopefully it will be a warning to other UK companies not to abuse their customers' personal data."
A spokesperson for John Lewis said the case consisted of a "very specific set of circumstances" and while they disagreed with the judge's decision they would abide by the ruling.
The company said in a statement: "Mr Mansfield voluntarily gave us his email address, set up an account online and chose not to opt-out of marketing communications when that option was available to him.
"We listen carefully to what our customers tell us about how and when we communicate with them and endeavour to do so in a manner that is convenient to them.
"We're sorry Mr Mansfield was inconvenienced by our emails."