Ohio Governor Signs Anti-Spam Law

The cost of violating anti-spam laws is rising, with Ohio joining the ranks of states banning unsolicited bulk commercial email and affording consumers and Internet Service Providers the right to sue.

On Thursday, Ohio’s Governor Bob Taft signed Ohio Senate Bill 8 into law, sponsored by state Senator Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster). It allows email recipients to sue mailers who continued to send spam after receiving a desist request — for $100 per email, up to $50,000, plus attorney’s fees, court costs, and other expenses. The bill will go into effect 90 days after it is placed in state records, probably on Oct. 31.

It’s a step up from current efforts in many other states. When the State of Illinois passed its anti-spam law in 1999, it provided for a fine of $10 per instance, up to a total of $25,000 per day. That law went into effect on January 1, 2000, according to Jan. 1, 2000.

The new Ohio law also affords ISPs to right to sue, a rarity in most cases. It allows “an electronic mail service provider whose authority or policy has been contravened” to sue as long as it has posted its polices.

The law states, “notice of these policies shall be deemed sufficient if an electronic mail service provider maintains an easily accessible Web page containing its policies regarding electronic mail advertisements and can demonstrate that notice was supplied via electronic means between the sending and receiving computers.”

The law provides for damages to ISPs of up to $50,000 for accidental violations, and up to $500,000 for “willful or knowing” violations.

“This bill will allow service providers to go after hardcore spammers,” said Senator Amstutz. “These emails often involve get-rich-quick schemes, pornography, and other undesirable messages that frustrate consumers and invade their privacy. Ohio is taking an approach similar to that of 17 other states to give our consumers additional tools to protect themselves.”

However, spam law cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute because most of the evidence is easy to destroy: spam businesses often operate under false names, and spam messages are usually sent with altered or fake headers. Spammers themselves are difficult to identify and frequently fail to show up in court.

For example, TidBITS, a service for Macintosh users, leveraged spam laws in Washington to shut down and sue an accused spammer. After winning its case when the defendant failed to show up in court, TidBITS attempted to collect damages. But this proved to be more costly than collections — the lawsuit cost TidBITS $3,000, and damages were never collected.

Nevertheless, many see the Ohio law as a positive action in the war on unwanted, unsolicited bulk email, and the scams that often ride it.

The news comes amid continued efforts by worldwide governments at the state and national levels to curb spam, motivated by a desire to protect consumers and local ISPs, which bear the cost of transmitting email. Japan and the European Union both recently passed laws levying fines for bulk emailers who spam their constituents or flood their ISPs.

At the same time, marketers support some controls on email spam — which degrades the effectiveness of legitimate email marketing forms, such as opt-in — are leery of efforts by states that would harm them in the process. In most cases, online and multi-channel marketers maintain that self-regulation and industry-sponsored technology efforts like TRUSTe are a simpler and more effective solution.

This article was originally published by internetnews.com’s sister site, ISP-Planet. Christopher Saunders, senior editor at internetnews.com, contributed to this story.

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