Spam is unsolicited "junk" e-mail sent to large numbers of people to promote products or services. Sexually explicit unsolicited e-mail is called "porn spam." Spam can also refer to inappropriate promotional or commercial postings to discussion groups or bulletin boards.

Are there Federal Anti-Spam Laws?

Since the advent of e-mail and the internet, Congress has made several attempts to regulate the use of spam, and most recently passed the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. The CAN-SPAM Act has a number of provisions that differ from those commonly found in state anti-spam laws, including the following:

  • Using "harvesting" or "dictionary attacks" to find e-mail addresses is specifically prohibited
  • A company can be held liable for permitting the use of spam for promoting it
  • Flagrant violators, such as those who engage in fraud, send large numbers of e-mails, or are repeat offenders, are subject to prison terms
  • Service providers and state agencies may sue violators
  • E-mail recipients may not sue for damages, but may receive "bounties" for individuals who report violators to the authorities
  • The FTC is directed to establish a national "Do-Not-Email"registry

Are there State Anti-Spam Laws?

A total of 36 states have passed laws regulating unsolicited electronic mail or "spam". State laws range from narrow provisions directed at sexually-oriented e-mail to comprehensive acts imposing a wide variety of restrictions. The following are common provision of anti-spam laws:

  • Require the sender of an e-mail to correctly identify oneself
  • Forbid a sender to place a misleading routing information in an e-mail
  • Make it illegal for a sender to use another's Internet domain name without permission
  • Bar the distribution of software designed to falsify the sender, routing information, or subject line of an e-mail
  • Require a sender to provide a means by which a recipient may ask not to be contacted
  • Mandate that a label appear in the subject line of an e-mail containing advertising or sexually-oriented material
  • Entitle a recipient or an Internet service provider to sue violators
  • Impose criminal penalties

Should I Contact an Intellectual Property Attorney if I Receive Spam or Use Spam for My Business?

If you receive Spam and want to learn about any possible legal action there may be against the company facilitating this activity, you may wish to seek the advice of an intellectual property attorney. If your company uses Spam, you may want to contact an intellectual property attorney to find out if your company is subject to either criminal or civil penalties in your jurisdiction.