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November 13, 2007

I Will Not Eat It, Spam I Am, 15 USC 7703

"Between the Briefs"

By Rooks

Though I’m a big supporter of artist unions, and bearing in mind that this Res Gestae gig doesn’t pay very well, I nonetheless decided that my loyalties this week lie not with the Writer’s Guild of America but with my fellow law students. So I’m not on strike (you’re all terribly relieved, I’m sure), but I will say that the blow of being a scab was weighing on me. Then one morning, a few days ago, I opened my inbox to two amazing, tangentially related things. The first was that LSSS is finally rectifying the [lawstudents] confusion, saving my (and everyone else’s) Umich e-mail account from complete anarchy; the second was that, for once, I had no spam. None. Not one piece of unsolicited crap.

Ok, obviously it doesn’t take a lot to amuse me these days, but this was, to my mind, pretty major.

As much as I sometimes have the urge to e-yell (read: type in all caps) at my classmates that no, I am not selling, nor am I buying, an Ohio State ticket, and that I have no idea what the readings for 1st Amendment are, [lawopen] nevertheless serves a valuable, if inbox-cluttering, function. Actual spam, on the other hand, is friggin’ useless. Awesome as it would be to work from home and make thousands of dollars a week, I realize that I’m a deeply flawed individual, and that it’s incredibly unlikely that I’d spend any of my newly discovered free time actually studying, choosing instead to roll around in piles and piles of easily garnered filthy lucre, Scrooge McDuck-style. Further, I honestly have no need for Viagra or MILF gangbangs or hot, barely legal babes. (Hey, if you do, that’s totally your business.)

Apparently the Federal Trade Commission and I are on the same page, as this past month they successfully prosecuted two men who were behind an international porn spam ring (U.S. v. Kilbride) under the CAN-SPAM act. (I can’t even fathom how long the congressional session was the day figuring out a viable acronym for the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act was on the agenda.) CAN-SPAM doesn’t make spam illegal, unfortunate though it may be for the sanctity of your e-mail account, but it does restrict they ways in which spam can be sent and even, to an extent, the kind of content that is initially viewable.

Though this isn’t the first successful spam prosecution since the inception of CAN-SPAM, it is notable in that it is the first that is coupled with obscenity charges. This matters because it greatly increases the penalty for spamming unsuspecting citizens with the best bestiality on the web, from a mere $11,000 fine to jail time. The defendants in Kilbride each got roughly five years, plus $100,000 in fines, all because, beyond violating restrictions about misleading subject lines and sender identification, the two men placed photos of anal fisting and rimming in the initially viewable body of the spam. (Yet another reason not to check your email in class.) That’s very, very illegal, and the charges of obscenity, coupled with CAN-SPAM and a wee bit of money laundering, effectively put the kibosh on at least one porn spam ring. Unfortunately, at just over a million bucks, it seems that this ring was relatively small-time, especially when compared to past CAN-SPAM targets, some of whom were getting $100,000 a month in sales.

Despite the fact that CAN-SPAM was enacted in 2003, I still get weekly offers for a miracle drug to make my penis three times larger. (One of my favorites actually said “let your small penis grow into a purple-headed demon.” I really fail to see how demonic possession of one’s bits is a good thing.) Though I suppose there’s some small comfort in going from sighing about how there oughta be a law (as you patiently delete images of octogenarian oral sex out of your email) to knowing that there is a law (as you patiently delete images of octogenarian oral sex out of your email), CAN-SPAM appears to be just a finger in the dam in the face of approximately 2.5 billion porn spam emails sent daily. Indeed, as of last year spam actually accounted for a greater percentage of all mail than it did in 2003.

Although there’s a lot of debate about the potential harms or merits of pornography, most everyone agrees that the spamming should cease, and there’re a few things folks on both sides of the argument can do to stop the spam. Beyond using a spam filter, don’t be hesitant to report objectionable content to the FTC. You’ll know it’s illegal if there’s no opt-out button, if the content is viewable right away, or if the sender or subject line is fraudulent. (Like if the subject line said “Get the Right Tools in Your Box for Law School” and then the text . . . ok, you probably get the idea). Also, if porn’s your thing, or a thing you’re looking into, now might be a good time to consider boycotting the purveyors who advertise via spam. There are many ways to discover new, interesting or different pornography beyond what ever manages to filter its way into your email (though that’s a column for another day). Paying someone to completely clog your (and everyone else’s) inbox makes even less sense than not getting [lawopen] as a digest.