Stopping Spam in Its Tracks
The netwaves are sure heating up about our computers these days. Three recent stories have caught my eye. First, record labels want to sue everyone in sight for downloading copyrighted music. Instead of dumping their vile, abysmal artists, they're blaming file-sharing services and users for the industry's lousy sales. Second, Bill Gates wants to team up with all his competitors to stop spam e-mails. Third — and, I admit, this one spurred me to action — Congress wants to pass a law to stop unwanted spam.
This could spell disaster, and, to avert it, I have a simple proposal to stop the spam problem in its tracks. Bill Gates can go back to more profitable pursuits, Congress can return to debasing our currency and our future, and the record labels — well, I'm taking a page from their book, but they can't charge me, because it's "fair use."
Here it is: Copyright your e-mail address.
That's right, copyright your e-mail address. That funny combination of letters and numbers and squiggles "at" your ISP is unique in all the world. No one else has it. You own it.
Once you do, follow my lead and take a page out of the music industry playbook. You can team up with others to sue anyone who uses your e-mail address without your permission, and each of you can get up to $100,000, since that is the penalty per infraction under U.S.C. (17), the Copyright Act.
Let's face it, the feds are too busy scratching their heads about terrorism to try stopping spam. The FBI will not even look at an embezzlement or wire fraud case — unless it's political — that's under $500,000. Identity theft? Forget it. It's your problem. Pornography? There hasn't been a federal prosecution of an adult obscenity case since Janet Reno took over Justice in 1993. Crime pays, and we're the victims.
In the memorable words of Pat Buchanan, it's so bad that some of us just want to throw up our hands — or (when we see our inbox), just throw up.
But there is a better way. Once your copyrighted e-mail address is infringed by a spammer, you have a direct cause of action, because U.S.C. (17) allows for no warnings — the first violation is a per se violation, and it can reap you $100,000, and so can every subsequent violation. If the record labels can scare antisocial, snot-nosed kids into submission with a few copyright lawsuits, surely the masses can take commercial spammers to the cleaners. In 18 months, spam would wither and die, as ISP's discovered (as they have in the Verizon music downloading case) that they can't pretend to be the piano player at the Internet whorehouse.
Instead of all the hoopla, Congress, in its wisdom, should merely add one line to the Copyright Act, and eventually, our negotiators could do the same to the Bern Copyright Treaty: "e-mail addresses are the copyrighted property of the addressee." Problem solved.
Oh, and try copyrighting your Social Security number too. Then you can sue the IRS for using it — they are not permitted to use it by law, you know. You have to pay them, why shouldn't they have to pay you?
Ah, intellectual property. Private, intellectual property.
Go for it.
June 27, 2003
Christopher Manion [send him mail] is president of Manion Music, LLC, which produces copyrighted, royalty-free music collections for telecommunications media and commercial and hospitality sites that use background music or music-on-hold. He writes from the Shenandoah Valley.
Copyright © Christopher Manion 2003. All Rights reserved.