State Anti-Spam Bills Make Progress in California and Indiana

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Anti-spam bills in California and Indiana moved closer to becoming law this week.


A bill in California that would allow recipients of unsolicited bulk commercial e-mail to sue senders for $500 for each piece of e-mail received, and that would also let the judge triple the fine if he or she finds that the sender knowingly violated the ban, passed the California Senate's Business and Professions Committee on March 24.


The California bill, SB 12, sponsored by state Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), is modeled after federal law banning unsolicited commercial faxes. It would ban e-mail advertising unless there is a preexisting business relationship between the sender and recipient or unless the recipient has agreed to receive the e-mail ad.


In California, only a city attorney, district attorney, the state attorney general and ISPs can pursue spammers in court. The bill expands Bowen's 1998 spam law requiring senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail to place an "ADV:" or "ADV:ADLT" label in the subject lines and a valid return addresses or toll-free number in body copy.


Bowen's bill is now headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee.


Meanwhile, the Indiana Senate voted 50-0 March 24 to approve House Bill 1083. Indiana's bill also allows recipients of unsolicited bulk commercial e-mail in Indiana to sue the senders for $500 for each piece of e-mail received in violation of the law.


It would ban using third parties' Internet domains without their permission, misrepresenting the source of the e-mail and using false or misleading subject lines.


Indiana's bill would also require "ADV:" to be the first four characters of the subject lines of unsolicited commercial e-mail and "ADV:ADLT" to be the first eight characters of the subject lines of adult commercial e-mail.


If the Indiana bill's sponsor, Rep. Jonathan Weinzapfel, D-Evansville, agrees to a minor change made by the Senate, the bill will go to Gov. Frank O'Bannon for his signature.


Currently, 26 states, including California, have anti-spam laws.


The ever-growing patchwork of state anti-spam laws prompted the Direct Marketing Association in October to come out in favor of federal anti-spam legislation, reversing a long-held position.


Many anti-spammers, on the other hand, contend that the increasingly complicated maze of state anti-spam laws has a beneficial chilling effect on large companies that would choke the medium if they began using it without fear.


Most observers agree, however, that current anti-spam laws will have little effect on the most egregious offenders, many of whom operate offshore.


In other spam-related news, Microsoft earlier this month initiated a rule that free e-mail users won't be able to send to more than 100 e-mail addresses in a 24-hour period. The rule is an effort to fight spam without putting constraints on the average user, according to Microsoft. The rule does not apply to paying MSN subscribers, the company said.


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