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Senior Judge John Kane ruled Monday. Kane, of U.S. District Court in Denver, continued a restraining order that keeps the Mail Abuse Prevention System, MAPS, from adding Exactis to its "black hole list." Trial was set for May 21.

MAPS targets companies who violate its e-mail marketing guidelines. Internet service providers routinely stop doing business with companies who appear on the list to limit the amount of unsolicited e-mail, called spam, that passes through their networks. Exactis, a Denver-based unit of 24/7 Media Inc., sends about 500 million emails each month on behalf of publishing houses, banks and online information companies.

Exactis, which denies it engages in spamming, has sued MAPS, claiming that MAPS has put its ability to do business in jeopardy.

Exactis attorney William Leone of Cooley Godward said the company had already lost clients and was at risk of losing more.

Martin Litt of Holme Roberts & Owen, who represents MAPS, disagreed with Judge Kane's order, which restrained MAPS from "making any statements detrimental" to Exactis and from taking steps to interfere with its business operations.

Litt argued that the wording was too vague. on the case. MAPS would not be allowed to defend itself from attacks by Exactis in the press, which have included being called "extortionate vigilantes," Litt said.

"It amounts to a content-based prior restraint on free speech," Litt said.

But Judge Kane disagreed, saying "This is not a First Amendment case. It's a business defamation case."