The California Senate inched closer to significantly tightening state laws targeting spammers Monday, when a Senate committee passed a bill that would fine e-mail marketers for each piece of unwanted commercial mail sent to consumers.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Debra Bowen, would prohibit e-mail marketers from sending unsolicited commercial e-mail to state residents. The bill would allow recipients of unwanted e-mail come-ons to received $500 per message. E-mail marketers found in violation under the law would also be required to contribute $250 per violation to California’s High Technology Theft Apprehension and Prosecution Program Trust Fund.
On Monday, the Business and Professions Committee passed the bill on a 5-1 vote, sending it on now to the Appropriations Committee for action in April. If it passes there, the bill would need to be voted on by the full Senate and Assembly, before going to Gov. Gray Davis for approval. The Senate and Assembly have a year to pass the legislation.
“Spam isn’t legitimate advertising and it’s not free speech — it’s basically high-tech junk faxing that forces computer users to pay for someone else’s advertising campaign through slower computer service and higher Internet access fees,” said Sen. Bowen, a Democrat from Redondo Beach.
The California bill would strengthen the state’s current anti-spam legislation, which requires commercial e-mailers to include an unsubscribe mechanism and “ADV” or “ADV:ADLT” in the subject line.
Brown introduced SB 12 in December 2002, filing an amended version in the Senate earlier this month.
The bill follows the preferred route of many anti-spam organizations, mirroring the federal junk-fax law passed in 1991 that bans unsolicited commercial faxes.
In January, a Harris Interactive poll found nearly three quarters of respondents thought spam should be illegal. California is one of 29 states in the country that has at least initiated some kind of anti-spam legislation, according to SpamLaws.com. E-mail marketers have decried these state efforts, fearing the provisions in the state bills are unworkable and will unfairly paint legitimate e-mail marketers with the same brush used for spammers.
Spam continues to be a high-profile problem confronting the Internet. According to Brightmail’s figures for February, its Probe Network stopped 6.5 billion spam attacks. AOL has said it received 4 million spam complaints a day and stops a billion pieces of spam a day.
The spam issue was the major factor leading to the creation in January of a coalition of e-mail service providers under the auspices of the National Advertising Initiative (NAI). The coalition joined other e-mail industry groups formed to address issues affecting e-mail marketers.
“We haven’t taken a formal position as a group on the bill,” said Trevor Hughes, NAI’s executive director. “We’re hoping to be helpful in the process.”
Hughes said the complications of trying to comply to so many state e-mail regulations has lead to a “sea change” in how e-mail marketers think of spam legislation.
“All these state efforts point to the need for federal legislation,” he said.
Next month, the Federal Trade Commission will hold a symposium on possible remedies to the spam problem, including federal legislation.
The fallout from spam has been a blemish on an otherwise bright area for the interactive marketing industry. E-mail marketing held up strongly during the pronounced online advertising downturn, growing into at $1.4 billion industry in 2002, according to Jupiter Research. By 2007, e-mail marketing is forecast to take in $8.3 in revenues, as more companies see the value of e-mail for customer retention.