Notorious American AOL spammer Jeremy Jaynes had his nine year federal prison sentence overturned today, when Virginia's high court ruled the state's tough "anti-spam" law violates the First Amendment right to free speech.
The court unanimously agreed Virginia's anti-spam law is "unconstitutionally overbroad" because it bans all unsolicited bulk email with false or misleading originating addresses, both commercial and noncommercial.
The law considers unsolicited bulk email a felony if more than 10,000 recipients are mailed in a 24-hour period.
Justice Steven Agee wrote in today's ruling that the state law violates "the right to engage in anonymous speech, particularly anonymous political or religious speech" protected by the First Amendment.
Agee added that "were the Federalist Papers just being published today via e-mail, that transmission by PubliAus would violate the statute."
"Publius" was used as a pseudonym in 1787 and 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to argue for ratification of the US Constitution.
Jaynes, a resident of North Carolina, was convicted in 2004 of three counts of junk email offenses by spamming tens of thousands of AOL users by means of a stolen database containing around 100 million addresses. He was once rated as the eighth worst spammer in the world by the anti-spam firm Spamhouse and is the first American to be convicted of a felony for sending unsolicited bulk email.
Because his spamming campaign flooded AOL's servers, Jaynes was prosecuted in Virginia, where the internet provider is headquartered.
In 2005, Jaynes was sentenced to nine years in prison under Virginia's anti-spam law. Prosecutors claimed Jaynes made nearly $24 million in sales from his spamming operation.
His conviction was affirmed by a Virginia Appeals Court decision in 2006 when it determined trespassing on private computer networks through intentional misrepresentation merited no First Amendment protection.
Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell told the AP he was disappointed the state Supreme Court overturned both previous rulings and said he would take the issue to the US Supreme Court.
Even if Virginia's anti-spam law is invalidated, Jaynes's commercial spam would still violate the federal CAN-SPAM Act. However, the law cannot apply to Jaynes because it was adopted after the emails in question were sent. ®