Spammer mail & Supreme Court Opinion Abuse

posted Oct 24, 2002

I just received an email from a spammer with the usual self-inflated claims of importence of spam, including the canard about "banning spam" being a major factor in the current depression of the economy. Talk about betraying a misunderstanding of how the economy works... along with the implicit claim that sales will somehow suffer if advertising is blocked.

Newflash: Advertising does not cause sales. "Supply" that can satisfy "Demand" causes sales. Advertising is at best a grease, and at worst, unnecessary in the final analysis. To a first approximation, anyhow; the true story is horribly complex and spam simply doesn't play a role.

The reason I post this is that he used a novel (to me) argument to defend himself. Since the spammers seem to share arguments frequently, I thought it would be worth treating this one in public. It went something like this, paraphrased:

The Supreme Court recently ruled that Jehovah's Witnesses can enter property marked "no soliciters" and do their thing, without your permission and with no recourse available to you.

This caused me to raise my eyebrows, but I'm not in the habit of just taking people's word for that sort of thing. A little searching on the internet turned up WATCHTOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOC. OF N. Y., INC. V.VILLAGE OF STRATTON. The opinion is available at Cornell's site. The relevant portion appears at the end:

With respect to the [Village's stated concerns to maintain its residents privacy], it seems clear that §107 of the ordinance, which provides for the posting of “No Solicitation” signs and which is not challenged in this case, coupled with the resident’s unquestioned right to refuse to engage in conversation with unwelcome visitors, provides ample protection for the unwilling listener.

Now, first of all, this is an irrelevant metaphor, along with all the other examples the email used, including walking up to someone on the street and advertisements on television; each of these lack the critical component that the receiver is directly paying for the reception of the undesired advertisement. But beyond that, the Supreme Court actually ruled against the requirement that soliciters aquire permits, not that soliciters have an unlimited right to pester people... in fact part of the reason the court ruled that permits were unconstitutional depended on the fact that we are able to reject undesired communication out of hand.

So if you see this one in the wild, show the spammer why that Supreme Court case actually reaffirms the idea that we can be selective in the communication we receive and it actually harms, not helps, their case.


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