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Court Upholds State Statute on Spam

January 05, 2002|From Bloomberg News

SAN FRANCISCO — A California appeals court upheld a state law regulating businesses that send unsolicited e-mail advertisements, also known as spam.

The appeals court in San Francisco overturned a trial judge's ruling that the state law violates the U.S. Constitution's mandate that only Congress has the right to regulate commerce between states.

The 1998 state law requires that spammers must provide ways for a recipient to get off their e-mail lists, as well as clearly stating in the subject line that the message is an advertisement.

"We find that California has a substantial legitimate interest in protecting its citizens from the harmful effects of unsolicited commercial e-mail and that [the statute] furthers that important interest," Justice Paul Haerle wrote on behalf of a unanimous three-judge panel.

Mark Ferguson sued Friendfinders Inc. and Conru Interactive Inc., two Palo Alto companies, in 1999 after receiving unsolicited e-mails that allegedly didn't comply with the state law.

A San Francisco trial judge dismissed Ferguson's trespass, unfair business practices and unlawful advertising suit last year before trial. California's attorney general joined Ferguson's appeal by filing an amicus brief.

As much as 30% of all e-mail sent each day consists of unsolicited ads for dating services, credit lines and other products, the court noted in its opinion. The cost of sending bulk e-mail is nominal to the sender, while it creates costs for Internet service providers and the recipients of the messages.

More than a dozen states have similar laws to control spam e-mail, while the U.S. Congress declined to enact a federal law.

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