The Australian government has joined the legal counter-attack against spam by taking an alleged spammer to court.

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) is going for its first public collar under the Spam Act. Wayne Mansfield will be put before the Federal Court on 20 July for distributing 56 million unsolicited e-mails and harvesting people's e-mail addresses.

The ACA claims Perth-based company Clarity1 - with Mansfield as its MD - has continued to distribute vast quantities of spam since the Spam Act came into force in April 2004, despite being warned in writing by the authority.

The ACA also wants an interim injunction slapped on the company to prevent it continuing to send e-mails. Acting ACA chairman Dr. Bob Horton made no apologies for the decision to go to court. "We advised them that they were required to comply with the new Act," he said, adding that UK counter-spam organization Spamhaus "subsequently reported that several major Australian spammers on their list had stopped operating, or left the jurisdiction. However, this particular operation continues today allegedly in breach of the Act."

Horton added that penalties under the Spam Act extended up to A$220,000 a day (£94,000) for first-time corporate offenders and up to A$1.1 million a day (£470,000) for repeat offenders, with a provision to seize ill-gotten profits and pay compensation to victims.

Most attempts to fine spammers huge sums of money in order to remove the motivation to send out millions of unsolicited e-mail every day have been in the US, where software companies AOL and Microsoft have been particularly active.

In July 2004, Microsoft won a $4 million verdict from Californian Daniel Khoshnood and hailed it as a victory. Later that month however, another case aided by Microsoft saw the New York attorney general settle with spammer Scott Richter for just $50,000.

Another settlement in October, this time in Massachusetts, saw William C. Carson and his business, DC Enterprises, agree to pay a $25,000 fine and stop sending e-mail.

The first person convicted and jailed over spam however happened in Virginia in November when brother and sister were taken through the courts. Jeremy Jaynes was sentenced to nine years in jail, and his sister, Jessica DeGroot, was fined $7,500. A third defendant, Richard Rutkowski, was found not guilty.