Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Interesting Developments in Anti-Spam Law – Gordon v. Virtumundo – CAN-SPAM Preempts Washington State Anti-Spam Law Causes of Action

The law in regard to CAN-SPAM’s preemption of state law causes of action continues to develop. On May 15, 2007, the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle decided the case of Gordon v. Virtumundo, Case No.: 06-00204, the Court held that CAN-SPAM preempted a plaintiff’s claims under Washington State’s Commercial Electronic Mail Act: WASH. REV. CODE §§19.190.010–.110. The Court relied, in part, on the decision of the Fourth Circuit in the Omega World Travel v. Mummagraphics case. The Court specifically held that:

This Court agrees with the Omega court's assessment of congressional purpose as well as its preemption holding. Applying the Omega analysis here, the Court finds the following. Plaintiffs' allegations here are that “from addresses” ending, for example, with “vm-mail.com” do not suffice to make the header not false or misleading because they require one to figure out to whom or what “vmmail.com” refers-i.e., the message is not obviously from “Virtumundo.” The parties agree that identification can be achieved by reverse-look-up using, for example, the “WHOIS” database, which “is an Internet program that allows users to query a database of people and other Internet entities, such as domains, networks, and hosts.” Definitions, Implementation, and Reporting Requirements Under the CAN-SPAM Act; Proposed Rule, 70 Fed.Reg. 25,426, 25,446 n. 233 (May 12, 2005). The WHOIS database is maintained by domain registrars and “includes the registrant's company name, address, phone number, and e-mail address.” Id. Plaintiffs do not dispute that WHOIS data can identify Defendants, and they have pointed to no e-mails that fail to provide information useful to a correct WHOIS look-up. Plaintiffs instead contend that this extra step should not be required of consumers. Regardless of the merits of that argument, the Court cannot find that “from addresses” ending with a domain that facilitates an accurate identification of Defendants could in any sense be found “false” or “deceptive.” Accordingly, while claims actually alleging falsity or deception under CEMA would not be preempted, Plaintiffs' claims here-for, at best, “incomplete” or less than comprehensive information-are for immaterial errors that may not be litigated under state law. Plaintiffs have not raised any issues of material fact that could prove Defendants' e-mails materially “false or deceptive” as those terms are used in the CAN-SPAM Act. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' CEMA claims are preempted by CAN-SPAM.
It seems that a consensus is building in regard to CAN-SPAM’s preemption of state law causes of action that are not based on traditional fraud claims of actual injury suffered by the plaintiff seeking to enforce the law.


WebGuy said...

Spam law needs SERIOUS reform.

Mark Mumma,
The Guy who LOST the war on spam.

Jeffrey D. Goldstein, Attorney at Law said...

Agreed. The laws need substantial reform. Mummagraphics was decided correctly, the state laws make for too burdensome a system for legitimate online marketers.