WASHINGTON: Regardless of what you think about Microsoft and America Online, it was hard not to feel a little warm to the new economy colossuses last week when they took their long-running PR effort against unwanted e-mails to the courts.These otherwise bitter rivals joined together with Earthlink and Yahoo in filing six lawsuits naming hundreds of people they say are violating anti-spam laws that went into effect at the start of the year. In doing so, the companies, all of which provide e-mail, became advocates of anyone who ever had their inbox glutted with porn solicitations, pitches for Viagra, and low mortgage-rate offers. Spam, of course, is more than an inconvenience; it's a legitimate business issue. The endless onslaught of memory-sucking e-mails that find ways to avoid even the newest junk-mail filters is a significant challenge to productivity and, at times, a major IT problem for companies large and small. Moreover, spam broaches concerns for all those who feel that their privacy is being invaded by solicitations that are often obscene. Naming at least a few of the culprits responsible for this in court papers will likely send the media on a hunt for these largely unknown offenders and thus multiply the positive coverage already drummed up by the filing of the lawsuits. To be sure, it's far from certain how effective these lawsuits will be. In their first-day coverage, some reporters quoted skeptical experts who are unhappy with the so-called "Can Spam Act" and doubtful that the lawsuits will do much to thin out the ever-growing ranks of spammers. Nevertheless, the lawsuits clearly put these companies on the right side of the spam issue and position them as consumer-friendly. That's especially important for a company like AOL, with its shaky reputation on customer relations. For that, these lawsuits win PR Play of the Week.