Okay, we’ve all heard about him by now. “The 873 Million Dollar Man,” otherwise known as Adam Guerbuez, the Montreal computer whiz and self-confessed internet marketer who was found to have sent millions of unwanted and uninvited solicitations to Facebook users for everything from erectile dysfunction and penis enlargements to marijuana products.

Facebook took him to court, and two years ago a California court convicted Guerbuez of violating US anti-spam laws. He was fined a couple of hundred bucks for every spam (advertisement) he sent, which totals $873.3 million, when you add it all up.

Last week the Quebec Superior Court upheld the US ruling, in theory requiring Guerbuez to pay the judgment.

Give me a break.

First of all, no one of Guerbuez’s financial stature and position has that kind of money lying around. This is just a guy and a laptop. And if you want to be really impressed, that $873.3 million when converted to Canadian funds at the 2008 exchange rate equates too more than a billion dollars Canadian.

That’s like the US music publishing industry fining a single mom millions of dollars for allegedly pulling off music from peer Internet music sites without permission, violating copyright. Or fining some guy millions of dollars for pulling movies off the web before their theatrical release.

Okay, if they re-sold this stuff and made millions, then such a fine would be appropriate. But they’re not. We’re talking a single mom pulling down tunes because her daughter is pestering her for them, and she can’t find money in the tight family budget to buy them on iTunes. Wouldn’t you, if you were in her position? Sure you would.

And the movie guy wasn’t bootlegging movies. He was just trying to beat the system and save a couple of bucks in rental fees.

Are they guilty of violating copyright? Of course. Should they be made to pay a fine? Probably. But the fine should fit the crime, and certainly the circumstance.

Did Facebook ever, at any moment, truly believe that Adam Guerbuez would pay a billion dollars in fines? Of course not. If they think he could, or would—Facebook is terribly misguided. With the appeal to the Quebec Superior Court in the works, the man at the center of all the attention quietly filed for bankruptcy about two months ago, effectively setting aside the judgment.

He doesn’t have to pay a dime.

No, Facebook was trying to make a point—an expensive one, if you consider the costs of legal fees to make that point. (However, if you’ve seen the movie and you heard that Facebook stock did a 5:1 split the other day, then you know that Facebook can afford those costs…)

And Facebook has a point. I don’t need, or want to see or hear all about erectile dysfunction or penis enlargement—and I certainly don’t want my kids to, either.

And what is spam, anyway? Unwanted solicitations, aka marketing. Guerbuez claims that no, he is not a spammer—he is an Internet marketer. Of course he is. A janitor is also a Primary Custodial Engineer.

Call it spam, call it marketing. The fact remained Guerbuez found a way to acquire the user names and passwords for millions of Facebook users. Then, in March and April of 2008, automated computer programs under his control sent out more than 4 million messages to Facebook account holders.

To any spammer and legitimate Internet marketer worth his salt, Guerbuez is a hero. He may have declared bankruptcy, but his 15 minutes of fame will ensure that every spammer and Internet marketer will be banging on his door wanting to know how he did it.

He’ll tell them, too—for a hefty fee. Wouldn’t you?

Facebook would have been better to have gone after the guy quietly, levy a reasonable fine and make him pay it as a deterrent that he will never do it again.

Instead, they have created a hero who will share his secrets, and then there will be more of this.

Lawsuits are sometimes launched just to make a point. Facebook could not have assumed this bear of a young man from Montreal would be in any position to pay a $1 billion Canadian in fines over his lifetime, or several lifetimes. Thus, the only possible use for this entire exercise was to make this fellow a poster boy for what not to do, to Facebook.

Oh, he’s a poster boy all right. Guerbuez’s poster is on the wall of every Internet marketer and spammer in the world, not as a dartboard but as inspiration with hearts and flowers.

Not only did Guerbuez figure out a way to get past Facebook security and market directly to its base, he also continued to market using the trial and outcome as a platform. It all culminated with his name and face in every newspaper and news magazine, every radio and TV station, and on every news website around the globe.

A masterful stroke. And Facebook handed it to him on a silver platter.

This was posted on Thursday, October 7th, 2010 at 1:57 pm and is filed under Intellectual Property, Internet/E-commerce . Feel free to respond, or trackback. Read our comments policy.