Like most Internet users, Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig hates junk e-mail--or, as it is formally known, unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE). In fact, he hates it so much, he's put his job on the line. "I think it will work," he says of his scheme for defeating the megabyte loads of penis extenders, Viagra offers, invitations to work at home, discount inkjet cartridges, and requests for "urgent assistance" to get yet another $20 million out of Nigeria.
Lessig, who wrote two influential books about the Internet and recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court against the extension of copyright protection, has developed a two-part plan. The first part is legislative: pass federal laws mandating consistent labeling so that it would be trivial for users and Internet service providers (ISPs) to prefilter junk. Federal antispam legislation hasn't been tried yet, and unlike state laws--which have been enacted in 26 states since 1997, to little effect--it would have a chance at deterring American spammers operating outside the nation's borders. Second: offer a bounty to the world's computer users for every proven violator they turn in. Just try it, he says, and if it doesn't work, he'll quit his job. He gets to decide on the particular schemes; longtime sparring partner and CNET reporter Declan McCullagh will decide whether it has worked.
This article was originally published with the title A Man, a Plan, Spam.