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Spam — electronic junk mail — is one of the peskier features of the digital age, worse even than cell phones ringing in a movie theater. So when Michael Jacobs, a partner at San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster, decided to sue over it, he found himself a champion of beleaguered e-mail readers everywhere. Jacobs’ case, against Etracks.com Inc., a Belmont, Calif.-based direct marketing company, has apparently struck a chord with a public that’s tired of having its in-boxes at work overflow with offers to “get sex now” and “pay debts later.” But he didn’t have to look far to find the right client — MoFo itself. The firm alleges that Etracks bombarded it with junk e-mails — and didn’t stop after MoFo fired a warning shot. With press attention has come a fan following for Jacobs and his firm. MoFo has received hundreds of e-mails — unsolicited, but the welcome kind — thanking it for taking up the cause. “A bit to my surprise, the public reaction to my lawsuit has been overwhelming,” says Jacobs. “It’s been much greater than the ‘important’ cases I’ve been involved in.” Jacobs himself has sent letters to California’s U.S. senators, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., urging federal action on spam. All of this is the result of some ire Jacobs felt last winter, when he became truly fed up with the spam that was barraging MoFo’s servers and mailboxes. “We were getting a lot of internal complaints from our staff about the spam that was coming in to the firm,” says Jacobs. “Some of it was merely annoying, some of it was offensive, but the bottom line was: ‘Why can’t you do something about this?’” Jacobs, the head of MoFo’s technology committee, cohead of its intellectual property department, and a technology litigator, was a natural choice to lead the charge. First, he looked into software that filters junk mail. On behalf of his clients, he was already following spam-related litigation. His conclusion: He might as well slay the dragons himself. “There was a natural confluence of events that led us to file this lawsuit,” he says. Etracks was an obvious target, he says, because it was “one of the more prolific spammers.” The suit, filed in February and now in an initial phase of discovery, accuses Etracks of violating a California state antispam law. It claims that Etracks sent MoFo more than 6,500 pieces of junk e-mail, and did not respond to Jacobs’s requests to stop. The e-mails included, among other things, offers for tarot card readings, cheap deals on WorldCom cell phone service, and online gambling sweepstakes. Under the California statute, MoFo could recover $50 per unwanted e-mail. In July, Etracks, which is represented by Kenneth Wilson, a partner in the San Francisco office of Seattle’s Perkins Coie, moved to dismiss the case, saying that Jacobs did not properly notify Etracks before he sued, as required by the California law. Wilson says that Etracks obtained the MoFo addresses legally, through retail companies that had relationships with MoFo employees. Jacobs is no stranger to high-profile, high-tech cases. “He’s really one of our stars,” says firm chairman Keith Wetmore. Jacobs got his start as a litigator at MoFo in the mid-1980s, representing Fujitsu Limited in a patent dispute with IBM. More recently, he has represented clients like Intel Corp. and Yahoo Inc. And in the kind of twist only a litigator could love, he’s been on the other end of the privacy debate, defending clients like online advertising company DoubleClick Inc. for their own online marketing schemes. “I find being a lawyer is full of irony,” Jacobs remarks. MoFo, for its part, doesn’t typically launch crusades on its own behalf, although, two years ago, a partner in the firm’s Denver office sued a man who bought the domain name morrisonandfoerster.com and posted disparaging materials online. (MoFo won.) That, too, inspired Jacobs: “I figured it was time we carry our weight here in San Francisco.” If he wins his case, Jacobs says, he will donate damages to a fund to help other victims of junk e-mail. Meanwhile, spam keeps pouring into the firm, although Jacobs says he has found a way to cut down on the volume. “We send e-mails saying, ‘We sue spammers.’” It seems to work.

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