US Supreme Court refuses to hear university spam case

The U.S. Supreme Court this week refused to hear an appeal of a case by an Austin, Texas online dating service that claimed it had a First Amendment right to send unsolicited e-mails through the University of Texas's computer system.

The decision lets stand an Aug. 2, 2005 ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, which said the school did not violate the constitutional rights of White Buffalo Ventures LLC when it blocked nearly 60,000 unsolicited e-mail messages the company sent to the university in 2003.

The Circuit Court also ruled that the U.S. Can-Spam Act of 2003 does not supersede the school's own antispam policies, which allow administrators to block unsolicited commercial e-mails when they receive complaints about them. And the court said that the school had no obligation to offer e-mail spammers the free use of its state-owned computer resources for advertising.

White Buffalo, which operates, had argued that the e-mails it sent did not violate federal antispam laws and contended that the university's antispam policy did not override the Can-Spam Act, which prohibits fraudulent, abusive and deceptive commercial e-mail, according to court documents. All parties agreed that White Buffalo's e-mails were not false or fraudulent. The online dating service also argued that the school violated its first amendment right to free speech by blocking the e-mails.

According to court documents, the case began in February 2003 when White Buffalo submitted a Public Information Act request seeking all "non-confidential, non-exempt e-mail addresses" held by the University of Texas, which responded by disclosing all qualifying e-mail addresses.

In April 2003, White Buffalo began sending legal commercial spam to targeted members of the university community. Shortly thereafter, the school received several complaints regarding unsolicited e-mail blasts from White Buffalo. The school investigated and determined that White Buffalo had indeed sent unsolicited e-mails to tens of thousands of the university's e-mail account holders. At that point, the school issued a cease-and-desist letter.