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Quebec court upholds $873M judgment against Facebook spammer

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Adam Guerbuez has a pending Facebook request … for $873-million.

The Canadian, whose garish ads for erectile dysfunction cures landed in the inboxes and "walls" of millions of Facebook users, must pay the massive amount to the social networking site, a court has ruled. Junk mail and spam accounts on Facebook are a rising irritant to users, as the site continues to grow, so the company is eager to make an example of Mr. Guerbuez.

For each spam message, a California court fined Mr. Guerbuez $100, in addition to another $100 in damages. The total came to about $873-million (U.S.). Mr. Guerbuez appealed the ruling in Quebec. Now, a Quebec court has upheld the decision, leaving Mr. Guerbuez on the hook for a fine so large it has landed him in the Guinness book of world records - a fine he will almost certainly never pay.

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"My client has already filed under the bankruptcy act, so [Facebook becomes]one of his creditors," said Mr. Guerbuez's Canadian lawyer, Éric Potvin.

"Facebook becomes the biggest one of his creditors," he added.

The original California court ruling, which came down in late 2008 against Mr. Guerbuez and his company, Atlantis Blue Capital, was the largest in history under U.S. anti-spam legislation.

Mr. Potvin said his client decided to file an appeal of the California ruling in Quebec because the amount of the fine was so disproportionate, and because a Quebec court might have provided Mr. Guerbuez with some reprieve in his home province.

"We argued that no such judgment could have been rendered in a Quebec court because it would be against public order," he said, adding that the total fine doesn't reflect the amount of monetary damages Facebook suffered.

Even at the time of the original ruling, Facebook considered the odds of collecting the money slim.

"Does Facebook expect to quickly collect $873-million and share the proceeds in some way with our users? Alas, no. It's unlikely that Guerbuez and Atlantis Blue Capital could ever honour the judgment rendered against them (though we will certainly collect everything we can)," the company wrote on its blog after the original verdict. "But we are confident that this award represents a powerful deterrent to anyone and everyone who would seek to abuse Facebook and its users."

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A year later, Facebook won a similar victory for $711-million (U.S.) against another spammer. As the social networking site grows past the 500-million-user mark, the number of fake spam accounts is also growing. Facebook hopes such rulings, which can sometimes mean jail time for repeat offenders, will deter other spammers.

Facebook alleged Mr. Guerbuez conned users into giving up their usernames and passwords. Once he had that information, the website alleged, he used those accounts to send out millions of unsolicited advertising messages via Facebook.

Mr. Guerbuez has milked his two-year saga for all the publicity it's worth. He has set up a blog, and has claimed repeatedly that authors have asked him about the possibility of turning the experience into a book. He repeatedly refers to himself on his Internet postings as the "873 million dollar man," and posts photos from various vacations and trips to high-end restaurants. He plans to hold a press conference Wednesday to discuss the court ruling. Indeed, the only concrete punishment Mr. Guerbuez appears to have suffered, beyond filing for bankruptcy this summer, is a ban prohibiting him from using Facebook.

Although Facebook has said it will try to collect as much of the money as possible, it is likely Mr. Guerbuez could escape paying the social network site anything once he is released from bankruptcy.

"After that, life goes on," Mr. Potvin said. "It's treated as any other debt."

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