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September 13, 2002
State Prevails in First Spam Case

SEATTLE - In another significant victory for Washington's anti-spam law, A King County Superior Court judge today declared that misleading commercial e-mail sent to millions of people violated Washington's 1998 statute.

The case against Jason Heckel of Salem, Ore., was the first filed by the Attorney General's Office under the state's1998 Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act, which prohibits e-mail that contains deceptive subject lines, misrepresents the e-mail's point of origin or uses a third party's domain name without permission.

The case was to go to trial later this month, but Judge Douglas North decided no disputed facts existed in the case, meaning a trial was not necessary. A hearing to determine the amount of damages Heckel will be required to pay will be held later this fall.
Under the statute, Heckel could be ordered to pay $500 per violation.

"Deceptive e-mails are more than just a nuisance, they rob consumers and businesses of money and time," said Attorney General Christine Gregoire. "This is a great victory for Washington consumers."

The state law prohibiting certain unsolicited commercial e-mail, or "spam," was enacted in 1998, and Heckel was sued by Gregoire later that year. In March 2000, another King County Superior Court judge ruled the law unconstitutional, but that decision was later overturned by the Washington Supreme Court. Heckel then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision, but it declined.

"This is one of the few tools consumers have to fight e-mail spam. I'm pleased that courts at all levels have validated this law," Gregoire said.

In the lawsuit, state attorneys accused Heckel, and his company, Natural Instincts, of violating the anti-spam law by sending unsolicited commercial e-mails to millions of Internet users. The e-mails were aimed at selling a booklet titled, "How to Profit from the Internet."

The lawsuit alleged that Heckel used a misleading subject line that read, "Did I get the right e-mail address?" to entice recipients to download and read his entire message. The suit also alleged that Heckel posted an invalid return e-mail address to which recipients were unable to respond.


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