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Compuserve Inc. v. Cyber Promotions - 962 F. Supp. 1015 (S.D. Ohio 1997)

Rule:

Electronic signals generated and sent by computer are sufficiently physically tangible to support a trespass cause of action.

Facts:

Defendant was an advertising company that distributed unsolicited e-mail to plaintiff’s customers. Plaintiff requested for defendant to stop, but Defendant continued. Plaintiff employed measures to block Defendant’s messages, but these measures were frequently circumvented. Plaintiff obtained a temporary restraining order to block the messages, and then sought a preliminary injunction to extend the duration of the blockage. Plaintiff contended that they were entitled to a preliminary injunction enjoining the advertising company from sending unsolicited e-mail to its customers on the grounds that the company's transmission of e-mail to the provider's computer equipment constituted an actionable tort.  Defendant argued that plaintiff’s computer equipment and service was not dispossessed, and that this prevented the issuance of such an injunction.

Issue:

Whether injunctive relief can issue for trespass upon personal property involving the internet? 

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court held that because the provider had demanded that the company stop sending e-mail to its customers, and the company deliberately evaded the providers' efforts to protect its computer equipment from such use, the provider had a viable claim against the company for trespass to personal property and was entitled to injunctive relief to protect its property. In so holding, the court found that (1) electronic signals generated and sent by computer were sufficiently physically tangible to support a trespass claim; (2) the value of the equipment used by the provider was diminished as a result of the company's conduct; (3) the provider was not a public utility and thus the company enjoyed no special privilege to use the provider's proprietary computer systems; and (4) the company had adequate alternative means of communication available to it.

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