California Anti-Spam Law Upheld

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An appellate court in California has upheld the state's 1998 law regulating spam and ruled that senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail must identify it as an advertisement.


In a unanimous decision, the state Court of Appeals ruled that such messages not only must be clearly identified but also provide a way for e-mail recipients to opt out of further unwanted communications.


The California anti-spam law requires the sender of unsolicited commercial e-mail to start messages with a subject line that begins "ADV" to flag that it is an advertisement. It also requires that the message include a working return e-mail address or toll-free telephone number that recipients can contact to be taken off the mailing list.


The appellate court overturned a June 2000 decision by the San Francisco Superior Court that the state's law was unconstitutional because it interfered with interstate commerce. The Superior Court ruled, in effect, that the Internet is largely immune from state regulation.


The appellate court noted that it was not trying to regulate the Internet, just the content of messages sent to addresses in the state.


"Protecting a state's citizens from economic damage caused by deceptive spam constitutes a legitimate local purpose," the court said.


The decision was prompted by California resident Mark Ferguson, who sued two Palo Alto, CA-based businesses Friendfinders.com and Conru Interactive, alleging that they violated the law in sending him spam. The case was not allowed to proceed after the lower court in June 2000 declared the law unconstitutional. This new decision lets Ferguson's case proceed.


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