Sat, Feb. 14, 2004

Website Mail May Violate Spam Statute

CK - Washington.   On February 13, 2004, the Munich Court of Appeals ruled, according to a published Heise report, on the legality of email sent through a form on a website and found the web site owner co-responsible for a violation of the anti-spam statute.

Some web sites spawn the visitor's own email program which renders the sender identifiable. At web sites with forms known as e-cards, the server hosting the web site sends the email. On such systems, the sender may be an imposter, may use a screenname or may be anonymous, depending on the settings of the web form.

In the instant case, docket number 8 U 4223/03, an anonymous visitor triggered an e-card from the SPD party's web site to, out of all people, a notoriously litigious lawyer who made a name for himself by targeting numerous defendants with cease and desist orders, a generally profitable undertaking, and a line of business despised by much of the public and many attorneys.

The court of appeals decided that the operator of the web site that enables the mailing of anonymous mail which may be undesired by the recipient, may be liable under the anti-spam act as a joint tortfeasor. The fact that the operator is a political party makes no difference, the court held. Its uninvited mail is just as violative as unwanted email from commercial entities. Even a single instance of abuse may confer liability. The addressee's ability to filter email and avoid the annoyance does not exculpate the operator of the web site.

The Bavarian decision builds on several other rulings by courts throughout Germany against spam and email from political parties. These holdings may warrant a need for politicians to familiarize themselves with the technical issues underlying spam before jumping on the anti-spam bandwagon with unrealistic statutes.


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