Junk Fax Law Loophole?

Junk faxes dwindled thanks to a 1991 law that bans them and to several lawsuits that sent junk-fax senders packing. However, legistation is on its way to the Senate to create exceptions to this rule.

A one-time avalanche of unwanted ads pouring from fax machines subsided in recent years, thanks to a 1991 law that bans them and to several lawsuits that sent junk-fax senders packing. The flow could further dwindle in July, once a federal rule goes into effect requiring written consent before faxing an unsolicited ad. Federal lawmakers, however, are racing to soften the rule following complaints from several industries.

Legislation on its way to the U.S. Senate floor would create an exception to the consent rule for anyone with whom a company has an established business relationship. The sender would only have to include a cost-free way for the recipient to opt out of further faxes, and the opt-out notice would have to be provided on each fax in a clear, conspicuous way.

The Senate committee that oversees commerce—The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation—approved the exception in the Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2005 this month after amending it to accommodate worries that it would open the floodgates to unwanted faxes just as the problem seems to be going away.

"If we [in the Senate] do nothing here, junk faxes will end on July 1," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., pressing to limit any exception to the consent rule. "Just because I walk into a store and buy a product ... the deal doesnt mean that they can fax me forevermore. Im not inviting them into my home."

Although e-mail has supplanted faxes in many workplaces throughout the country, some industries still rely on the fax machine to communicate rapidly with their clients. Publishers, for example, fax rate cards, marketing data and ad proofs to clients, and it would be expensive to create and maintain a database of consent forms, according to Jon Bladine, president and publisher of the News-Register Publishing Co., in McMinnville, Ore.

"The signed-consent rule would stop our advertising department in its tracks every day," Bladine said. "The FCC [Federal Communications Commission] order would require that we interfere with our customers lives to get signed consent forms."

Real estate agents send home listings, market analyses and other complex data to clients, sometimes even before meeting them. Obtaining written permission in advance would be complicated and expensive, the National Association of Realtors told Congress.

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