So You Want to File a CAN-SPAM Suit?

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Much like Graham Chapman in a famous Monty Python sketch, many people “don’t want any spam” because they “don’t like spam.” See, e.g., State v. Heckel, 24 P.3d 404, 406 n.1 (Wash. 2001); S. Rep. No. 108-102 (2003), at 2 n.1. However, while Chapman was bemoaning the famous processed meat in a can, "spam" has taken on a different meaning in the Internet age: "spam" now also refers to the unsolicited commercial email messages that clog people’s inboxes every day. See Laurie J. Flynn, Compressed Data; Gracious Concession on Internet 'Spam', N.Y. Times, Aug. 17, 1998, at D3. This type of email is similar to the “junk mail” that arrives through postal mail.

While the practice of sending spam emails is widely condemned, it is still very prevalent. State governments have attempted to remedy the problem through a variety of tactics, including regulation. As states were beginning to pass laws containing a variety of anti-spam regulations, Congress passed Federal legislation (the "CAN-SPAM Act of 2003"), which explicitly preempts most state laws in order to provide "one national standard" for the regulation of commercial email. S. Rep. No. 108-102 (2003), at 21. The CAN-SPAM Act, however, has not eliminated spam.

The following FAQs will address particular questions that recipients of spam email, as well as their lawyers, might have about the legal framework that governs commercial email.