The Ethical Status of Spam

Spurred by the comments below, a couple of questions for readers.

During the weekend before the move to Wordpress, Catallarchy was inundated with spam. We received something like 1,200 spam comments in a period of 3 hours. Due to the less-than-stellar Movable Type interface, I spent nearly 4 hours deleting it. Often when I link back to old posts, I discover advertisements for everything from sex toys to fake viagra to business consulting. Similarly, spam eats up bandwidth, wastes time, and hogs resources for organizations and enterprises.

1) Is spam a property rights violation?

2) Does it matter?

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1) Yes, it is 2) No, it

1) Yes, it is
2) No, it doesn't.

You are responsible for defending your own property. Others will help you insofar as they expect you to help them defend theirs. IMHO, taking no action to defend yourself from spam and then whining to the government about it is immoral. The solution to spam is, and must be, technological and social, and it does and must originate from us, not the government.

1) Yes, if you're telling

1) Yes, if you're telling people not to spam your site.

2) Yes, it would be wrong for you to spam others who were telling you not to.

Jonathan, I was surfing the

Jonathan,

I was surfing the net the evening you got spammed, and must have stopped reading here before you got hit. I *thought* that the spam that y'all had been referring to were my not as highly edumacated posts!

Whew, I feel better -- but, I still promise NOT to invoke the name of a certain historical figure from the past when attempting to explain something! :)

Write Wing Blogger [used to be Michi]

Also, as my new blog is so quiet[I can't seem to entice the lurker's to post.] I would probably be thrilled to be spammed. . . I think.

Only if you like ads for

Only if you like ads for penis pills, teenage girl cams, and online poker and blackjack (online blackjack? come on now).

Is sending junk mail through

Is sending junk mail through the post office a property rights violation? Is trolling on an online message board a property rights violation? Is telemarketing a property rights violation?

Does this have anything to do with whether or not you believe in the legitimacy of intellectual property rights?

My opinion: thinking about what is and is not a property rights violation isn't very helpful. Rather, the important questions are: what are our goals? What are we trying to achieve? Can we define property rights in such a way as to achieve these goals? Are these definitions enforceable at a cost that we are willing to pay? Are there less costly ways of achieving our goals apart from legally enforceable property rights?

Thinking in terms of right and wrong isn't going to answer these questions. Thinking in terms of costs and benefits, means and ends, and shared goals just might.

1) Yes, if you’re telling

1) Yes, if you’re telling people not to spam your site.

What if you're telling them, "If you need to reach me, here is my email"?

If someone doesn't

If someone doesn't necesarily believe in IP, I think the best way to look at this is through considering the computer to be someone's property - as in their house. I think unwanted spam could be seen as someone trespassing on your server.
A spammer is entering someone's house without their permission (Assuming there is some sort of sign saying that they aren't wanted). A blanket statement "If you need to reach me, here is my email" doesn't qualify what that email address can or can't be used for (Here is my address, stop by if you need to), so spamming in that case isn't necesarily a property rights violation.
However, if there was a message "Please post an intelligent and civil comment" and someone has a bot post viagra advirtisements then that would definately be a violation of property rights.

Michi, There is no reason to

Michi,
There is no reason to be embarrassed about anything you have said here in the past, and I don't remember anything from you remotely worthy of embarrassment. I enjoy your comments. It is *us* who are the crazy ones. :razz:

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[...] nearly impossible to

[...] nearly impossible to know in advance whether or not any particular email will result in a property rights violation. It is not until the recipient reads the e [...]