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Court knocks back challenge to spam ruling

Washington appeals panel upholds a ruling against an Oregon businessman found to have violated the state's tough antispam law.

A Washington appeals court has upheld a ruling that found an Oregon man had violated the state's antispam law.

A three-judge panel voted unanimously on Monday to reject an appeal by defendant Jason Heckel, who claimed his mass e-mailing practices did not violate Washington state law. In 2002, a judge found Heckel in violation of the state's Commercial Electronic Mail Act and imposed an injunction and fine as penalties.

Washington's antispam act bars marketers from sending e-mail product pitches to state residents if the subject line misrepresents the message. The legislation also bars mass e-mailers from using third-party domain names to send their messages.

The appeals court ruling highlights the ongoing legal battles between state and federal courts, and many private companies, against alleged purveyors of unsolicited bulk e-mail. In December 2003, President Bush signed the "Can-Spam" Bill, which would penalize those who send e-mails with misleading subject headers and "sexually explicit" messages without proper labeling.

In his appeal, Heckel claimed prosecutors could not prove the e-mails sent out by his company Natural Instincts were intended for Washington residents. He also said the antispam legislation violated commerce laws and that his First Amendment rights were compromised by the ruling.

However, the appeals court maintained Heckel's use of misleading subject lines and his sending of e-mails via other domain names without authorization were enough to break the law.

"Not only did Heckel fail to change his procedures for disseminated spam, but he also failed to change his misleading subject lines, a means by which he could have brought his advertisements within the parameters of the Act," the ruling read.

Washington first filed its lawsuit against Heckel in 1998, just four months after passing its antispam law.

Industry giants America Online, Microsoft, Yahoo and EarthLink have also teamed up to file lawsuits against suspected spammers under the Can-Spam Bill. In March, the companies filed six lawsuits against hundreds of defendants across numerous states.