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Legit E-Mailers Say Law Lets Spammers Off

California anti-spam law could hurt the white hats while missing the black hats
Anti-spam legislation signed last week by California Gov. Gray Davis might be considered heroic, but only if no one asks marketers and some anti-spam vendors. They say the law will do little to end junk E-mail once it takes effect Jan. 1.

The law outlaws unsolicited commercial messages sent to any address registered to a person in California or from any California E-mail address. Recipients and Internet service providers can seek damages of $1,000 per message, up to $1 million per incident. The law exempts E-mail to recipients with whom the sender has an existing business relationship but requires those messages to include opt-out instructions.

Microsoft says the law will help it build on suits the company has filed against spammers it alleges abused its E-mail service.

But Kevin Johnson, senior VP of Digital Impact Inc., an E-mail marketing contractor, says the law makes it too easy to sue identifiable, legitimate companies, while doing nothing to end junk mail from spammers that use fake IDs and overseas servers. "We don't expect it will make a dent in spam," he says. Digital Impact general counsel Ken Hirschman says he'd support a law that would impact those sending deceptive and offensive messages.

The Direct Marketing Association supports requiring unsolicited E-mail to include a valid physical mailing address. But while legislation is important, "there are 36 states with active legislation restricting spam," says Scott Petry, founder of anti-spam vendor Postini Inc., and "it doesn't seem to have affected the spam issue that much."

Lowell Mattox, VP of internal technology at MasterCard International Inc., a Digital Impact customer, isn't ditching his anti-spam tools. The law "doesn't look enforceable to me," he says. "It's so toothless."