Spammer pokes holes in Virginia anti-spam law, gets set free

In a unanimous decision, Virginia's Supreme Court has agreed with arguments made by lawyers of convicted spammer Jeremy Jaynes that Virginia's anti-spam law violates the Constitution's First Amendment free speech protections.

Jaynes was famously sentenced to 9 years in prison in what was believed to be the first case of felony spamming. He was found to have propagated 10 million unsolicited e-mails a day through an AOL server housed in Loudon County, Virginia.

Despite living in North Carolina at the time, Jaynes had to answer to Virginia state law, which had notoriously strict regulations against spamming.

In February, the state's Supreme Court found grounds for reconsidering Jaynes' assertion that Virginia's anti-spam law violated the first amendment, not necessarily reflecting how it affected him, but how it was a generally faulty law.

Indeed, the unanimous decision returned Friday found that the 2003 law does not effectively distinguish standard commercial spam from political or religious spam, and was therefore a prohibition of free speech, and a violation of the first amendment.

Virginia law had originally detailed the act of spamming as sending 10,000 e-mails with altered routing information or headers per day, or 100,000 per month. Spammers could be prosecuted if they made more than $1,000 in revenue or if $50,000 of transactions resulted from the messages.

In 2005, BetaNews guest writer Brian McWilliams argued that Jaynes' sentence did not fit the crime, leaving a reversal likely, and adding that the courts ordered the spammer to make no monetary reparations for his crime. Now that Jaynes will be set free after the high court's decision, he can return to his 5,8000-square-foot, million-dollar Raleigh mansion and spam fortune that was estimated at $24 million -- minus some attorneys' fees.

Virginia could appeal the decision, although experts say that is unlikely due to the poor wording of the legislation, which will need to be revised. AOL could also sue Jaynes, but he is not culpable under the federal CAN-SPAM act, which was enacted after the spamming occurred.

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