Spammers lose in small-claims court

A free-speech group takes its spam complaints to a small-claims court in Washington state and comes out with a $1,000 judgment in each case.

Free-speech group Peacefire.org has won a legal round in its fight against unsolicited e-mail, invoking Washington state's anti-spam law.

The King County District Court in Bellevue, Wash., on Monday granted Peacefire $1,000 in damages in each of three complaints filed by Peacefire Webmaster Bennett Haselton. The small-claims suit alleged that Red Moss Media, Paulann Allison and Richard Schueler sent unsolicited commercial messages to Haselton that bore deceptive information such as a forged return e-mail address or misleading subject line.

Washington's tough anti-spam law bans such deceptive e-mail. Enacted four years ago, the law is one of the nation's first measures that sets standards for junk e-mailers and levies stiff fines for violators. In October, the Supreme Court refused to review a constitutional challenge to Washington's law.

California has a similar anti-spam law that requires marketers to place the letters "ADV" in the subject line, signifying an advertisement. It too has the support of the courts, with a state appeals court ruling the measure does not violate a clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Congress, however, has yet to pass federal legislation governing commercial e-mail, leaving consumers such as Haselton to seek protection under state laws. So far, Peacefire and Haselton have been victorious. In December, they won similar small-claims court rulings against four separate spammers for $500 each.

Monday's rulings "show there are non-technical means to fight back against spam," Haselton said. "I'm glad to live in a state where we have an effective anti-spam law, and I wish other states would pass similar laws or the federal government would pass one."

Red Moss Media and Schueler could not be immediately reached for comment; Allison declined to comment on the ruling.

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