Legislation Threatens E-Mail Marketing

Roy Schwedelson, CEO of Worldata, Boca Raton, FL, is putting a call out to leaders in the list industry to take action against some legislation in Congress that may “completely destroy what and how we do things for a living.” It's H.R. 1685, the Internet Growth and Development Act, which concerns unsolicited e-mails.

Schwedelson writes that the legislation could allow any electronic mail service provider, the largest of which is America Online, to stop any electronic mail or advertising from entering its system. If you speak with Schwedelson, you'll hear his concern because of the bill's potential to kill e-mail marketing, including opt-in lists. While the U.S. Postal Service has looked out for the mailing industry over the years, this is a new arena where Congress is listening to powerhouse AOL. “I can bet AOL's lawyers drafted this legislation,” Schwedelson said. “There are too many things that are too self-serving.”

While just about everyone agrees that spam is bad, H.R. 1685 takes it too far. It may be targeting spam, but it will invade other areas, said Schwedelson and Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government relations at the Direct Marketing Association. What it boils down to is prior relationships, which AOL and the other service providers already have with their customers, and a request to get information specifically. If this legislation passes as is, the service providers will be your only way to reach consumers. Cerasale said the DMA is lobbying to have the bill amended. “It's only a few words that need changed,” he said. “Even the people who are vehemently anti-spam are pro opt-in.”

Though Schwedelson and Cerasale aren't sure what chance this bill has of becoming law, think about it: Who wouldn't vote in favor of an anti-spam bill? Surely not any legislator who's up for re-election anytime soon. What people in the list industry need to do is get involved: Talk to the DMA and contact your legislators. As Schwedelson said, “The whole list industry has to wake up.”

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