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High Court Gives Fax Firm a Busy Signal

Justices decline to rule on Fax.com's claim that a ban on unsolicited transmissions violates its free-speech rights.

January 13, 2004|Alex Pham | Times Staff Writer

Supreme Court to Fax.com Inc.: Take us off your list.

The nation's high court on Monday refused to hear a case claiming a 1991 federal ban on unsolicited commercial faxes violates free-speech rights. That closed off a key defense for the closely held Aliso Viejo company, which faces multiple lawsuits and fines for sending out junk faxes.

By refusing to hear Fax.com's appeal, the Supreme Court left intact the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which bans junk faxes.

Calls to Fax.com's attorney weren't returned, and attempts to reach executives were unsuccessful.

"We're very happy that the Supreme Court has refused to hear this," said Missouri Atty. Gen. Jay Nixon, who sued Fax.com in 2000.

Nixon initially lost the suit when a federal district judge declared the ban unconstitutional, but he later won on appeal. Fax.com appealed to the Supreme Court last summer.

"There are sound public policy reasons why it should be illegal," Nixon said, citing the costs to recipients of junk faxes.

Fax.com contended that unsolicited faxes cost from 2 to 4 cents a page. In its Supreme Court petition, Fax.com said "commercial speakers are relying upon technological advances to advertise."

The Supreme Court's action was hailed by crusaders against unsolicited e-mail, or spam.

"Junk faxes are very much analogous to the spam problem," said Ray Everett-Church, a consultant with ePrivacy Group. He added that junk faxes were a "huge problem" before the 1991 ban.

"Now you only have a few shadowy players, like Fax.com, who go to great lengths to hide their practices and identities," he said.

The Federal Communications Commission last week imposed a record $5.4-million fine against the company for 489 alleged violations of sending junk faxes.

In addition, the company faces a class-action lawsuit in California. The suit seeks an injunction against Fax.com to cease sending unsolicited faxes as well as $2.2 trillion in damages.

"None of us expect to see that money," said plaintiff attorney Barry R. Himmelstein. "This case is something of a public service to shut down this company, which is bothering just about everybody incessantly."

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