While Bexis is on vacation, here is a guest post to take up some of the slack. Our guest blogger today is Henry Pietrkowski, a partner in Reed Smith’s Chicago office. This one’s a little different. It’s about the impact of a 1991 federal statute prohibiting unrequested faxes, and how it could impact on pharmaceutical promotional activities that send faxed information to healthcare providers. As always, our guest bloggers deserve all the credit, as well as any blame, for their posts. Here goes.
Scottish inventor Alexander Bain is credited with inventing the first fax machine in 1843 – an “Electric Printing Telegraph.” By 1846, Bain was able to reproduce graphic signs in laboratory experiments by synchronizing the movement of two pendulums to transmit a message across a wire. But
it was not until over a century later, in 1964, that the Xerox Corporation introduced the first commercialized version of the modern fax machine. From there, faxes became ubiquitous. They provided a standardized method of communication used worldwide, and their validity as a method of transmission was adopted by the business world. By the 1980s, faxes had become widely used as a form of marketing. Why pay the cost of postage to send an advertisement when the advertiser could use the recipient’s own paper and toner to print it?
It was at this point that Congress stepped in by passing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (the “TCPA”). Among other alleged telemarketing abuses, the TCPA specifically prohibits the use of a “telephone facsimile machine, computer, or other device to send, to a telephone facsimile machine, an unsolicited advertisement.” 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(C). To ensure that businesses took the Act seriously, Congress imposed a minimum statutory damage award of $500 per fax regardless of the sender’s intent, and up to $1,500 for a knowing or willful violation of the statute. Id. at § 227(b)(3). Senator Ernest Hollings, who sponsored the bill, expressed his hope that violations of this law could be enforced by aggrieved individuals in small claims court where counsel would not be needed.