DMers Plead for Federal Anti-Spam Law

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NEW YORK -- E-mail marketers at a Bigfoot Interactive anti-spam conference here yesterday continued to stress the need for federal legislation to counteract state anti-spam laws, especially the California bill set to go into effect Jan. 1.

Under the law, all unsolicited commercial e-mail is banned, and marketers and advertisers must receive direct consent from consumers or have a prior business relationship. Consumers are given the right to sue violators. Some believe the law will make e-mail prospecting illegal and even threaten ad-supported e-mail newsletters with lawsuits.

"I promise you there will be suits filed at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, and you will be the target of those suits," Emily Hackett, state policy director for the Internet Alliance, told e-mail marketers at the conference.

Despite the Senate passing the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 on Oct. 22, the House of Representatives has yet to act on either of the spam laws it has considered. Congress is set to adjourn on Nov. 21, putting action in doubt.

Hackett was circumspect that any action would take place before the end of the year, as Congress is still mired in budget bills and other matters.

"This is a very hot political issue," she said of laws like California's. "Don't expect rational responses."

"It's 50-50 that we'll get something out of the House that will be accepted unanimously by the Senate and sent to the president before the end of the year," said Jerry Cerasale, the chief lobbyist on federal legislation for the Direct Marketing Association.

On Thursday, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and Association of National Advertisers joined the DMA in publishing an open letter in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call urging Congress to pass federal legislation. The letter encourages the House to pass either the CAN-SPAM Act or the Reduction in Distribution of Spam Act, one of the House anti-spam proposals, in order to override the 37 state laws on the books.

The three groups joined up last month to endorse a set of guidelines for legitimate e-mail marketing.

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