An appreciation of Ig Nobel winner “Spamford” Wallace

Nate Anderson, writing in Art Technica, takes a fond look at the career of Ig Nobel Prize winner Sanford (“Spamford”) Wallace. Mr. Wallace was awarded the 1997 Ig Nobel Prize in the field of communications; the Ig Nobel citation said “neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night have stayed this self-appointed courier from delivering electronic junk mail to all the world”.

The Ars Technica article says, in part:

The decade-long quest to stop “Spamford” Wallace
After a spate of lawsuits dating back to the late ’90s, the feds step in.

wallace[He found] monetary success—and public notoriety—during the mid-1990s with his Pennsylvania company Cyber Promotions. As a heavyset twentysomething with close-cropped hair and glasses, Wallace first spammed fax machines and then moved on to e-mail, believing that he had a legal right to market his wares as he saw fit. Dubbed “Spamford” by opponents, he eventually embraced the nickname and even registered the domain (In 1997, Hormel sent him a letter objecting to the name on the grounds that it used the company’s potted meat SPAM trademark). Unlike other spammers who hid their identities, Wallace regularly tangled in public with antispam crusaders.

Cyber Promotions quickly became so hated that a dozen Internet service providers, including AOL, sued Wallace in the late 1990s, each hoping to halt his flood of junk e-mail despite the lack of antispam laws at the time. Wallace pressed on, but the lawsuits did cramp his business.

Wallace’s long case history illustrates an obvious fact: not even the powerful word of the US government is self-executing… the government does have mechanisms in place to ultimately compel behavior, but each mechanism requires renewed, and significant, human effort. FTC lawyers can go to court and obtain default judgments when their targets don’t show up, but every move to enforce those judgments requires more trips to the judge, more evidence collection, more legal documents, and the eventual involvement of US marshals. If lawyers for a defendant start challenging these steps, the amount of effort needed to collect a fine grows more quickly than a Vegas air-conditioning bill….

As of December 2013, the federal case against Wallace continues.