First Test of Anti-Spam Law Dismissed

First Test of Anti-Spam Law Dismissed

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The first court test of Utah's 10-month-old law against "spam" e-mail ended with a judge's dismissal of a proposed class action lawsuit against Sprint Communications Co.

The suit was filed in state court last July by South Salt Lake resident Terry Gillman, who accused Sprint of violating the Unsolicited E-Mail Act by sending him unsolicited advertising.

Third District Judge Denise Lindberg found that Gillman had given his permission to receive third-party promotional messages when he signed on to the Audio Galaxy Web site in April. That site sold e-mail addresses to other parties, among them Sprint.

"At least in cases similar to this one, this ruling has a great deal of importance," Sprint attorney Paul Drecksel said Thursday. "This is the first time a court in Utah has been called upon to qualify what amounts to unsolicited e-mail."

Drecksel said the decision also was important in light of the more than 30 states with often conflicting anti-spam e-mail laws. Because spam can come from widely scattered locations, determining which of the varying standards applies can be a legal nightmare.

"The purported purpose of all these statutes is mainly to stop unsolicited pornography and scams," Drecksel said. "But what we find in practice is that these laws do nothing to stop those two bad acts. Those companies are here today, gone tomorrow, so lawyers can't make any money pursuing them."

He said that instead, "legitimate companies with deep pockets" end up in court.

Sandy attorney Denver Snuffer, whose firm filed Gillman's complaint, did not immediately answer telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment. Gillman, whose phone is unlisted, also could not be reached.

However, the sponsor of the state's anti-spam statute, Sen. Patrice Arent, D-Holladay, said that civil suits remain the best way to enforce the law's provision for fines of $10 per unwanted e-mail up to a maximum of $25,000 per day.

The Gillman case "does not sound like it was really a good test of the statute," Arent said. "Clearly, the statute is intended to protect people against unsolicited commercial and sexually explicit e-mails -- not preventing e-mail from companies with pre-existing relationships" with recipients. "You still need to be careful and cautious about what you sign up for online."

Gillman requested removal on May 14, 2002, from the e-mailing lists his visit to Audio Galaxy a month earlier had linked him to. Two days later, he received a Sprint ad, and on May 28 he filed suit. The court found his attempt to have himself removed from the lists was insufficient to void the pre-existing business relationship.

Arent said her bill's language could use some fine-tuning, included providing e-mailers reasonable time to comply with requests for removal.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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