NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Utah's Antispam Legislation

June 6, 2003

In the fight to close the lid on spam -- unsolicited commercial e-mail -- one Utah lawyer has filed nearly 1,000 lawsuits under the state's tough year-old antispam legislation. And he says he plans to file more suits until spammers get the message.

Besides fly-by-night purveyors of body enhancements or get-rich-quick schemes, many of the defendants in the suits are major corporations such as eBay Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase Corp.'s Chase Manhattan Bank.

Utah's experience is a cautionary tale of the hazards of antispam laws. Thirty-three states have enacted laws seeking to regulate unsolicited commercial e-mail in recent years. federal lawmakers are also pondering ways to curtail it.

One key question is: just what is spam?

  • Most e-mail users concur that pornographic material and unsolicited advertising disguised as messages from friends are undesirable and irritating.
  • But some people may welcome messages from brand-name retailers whose Web sites they frequent.
  • And as with regular junk mail, some people are offended to receive advertising from companies who buy their addresses from retailers they frequent, and others are actually interested in the products.

That gray area is confounding advertisers, consumers and lawyers alike.

  • The Utah law defines commercial e-mail as spam if the sender has no previous business relationship with the recipient and fails to signal that the e-mail is an advertisement in its subject line.
  • In addition, the sender's e-mail has to provide a valid street address and Internet domain name, and give recipients a way to be removed from future mailing lists.

According to the Utah law, anyone who receives commercial e-mail that doesn't comply with its requirements can file a civil suit against the sender.

Source: Mylene Mangalindan, "Legislators Call for Fix to Law Against Unsolicited E-Mails," Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required) http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB105484626839598400-search,00.html

 

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