Free speech argument overturns AOL spammer conviction

Posted by   Virus Bulletin on   Sep 16, 2008

Virginia court upholds notorious Jaynes' right to express himself in bulk.

Infamous AOL spammer Jeremy Jaynes, convicted of a massive spamming campaign targeting AOL users in 2004, has had his conviction overturned in a Virginia Supreme Court judgement which essentially undermines the state's local anti-spam laws in favour of free speech arguments.

Jaynes was indicted and found guilty of contravening the state of Virginia's strict laws controlling bulk email in 2004, in the first ever felony conviction of a spammer in the US. The free speech argument was first aired shortly after his initial sentencing, but the argument was dismissed by a circuit court judge, and the sentence was upheld and later confirmed by the Supreme Court. His sentence, nine years in prison, was heralded at the time as a strong message that spamming would not be tolerated, an example now seriously weakened by the court's change of mind.

The Virginia law, now under heavy fire having been labelled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, bans all unsolicited bulk mails, with a felony charge applicable if more than 10,000 mails are sent in a 24-hour period - Jaynes is thought to have sent many times this number, and to have made profits of as much as $24 million from his campaigns. The legal argument against the law holds that, as it covers all forms of bulk mail, it impinges on the right to flood inboxes with political or social messages, upheld by the US constitution. The CAN-SPAM Act, which covers the whole of the US, is not at risk from similar ruling as it only affects commercial email. It would have covered Jaynes' activities had it been in place at the time he unleashed his bombardments.

More details are at Yahoo! News here, with comment in The Register here.

VB's editor Helen Martin comments on the sentencing of convicted spammers in the September issue of Virus Bulletin - available to VB subscribers. (Click here for subscription information.)

Posted on 16 September 2008 by Virus Bulletin



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