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Should E-Mail Be Taxed?

One would think that the idea of taxing e-mails wouldn't find much support among lawyers. After all, large law firms must send out thousands of e-mails a day, while even a solo like myself can easily dispatch two dozen or more. But one lawyer, Edward Gottesman, is speaking up in favor of the practice, as he describes in this opinion piece in the U.K.'s Prospect Magazine.

Gottesman contends that an e-mail tax would cut down on the billions of spam and junk e-mails that wreak havoc across the Internet by spreading viruses, purveying fraudulent goods and generally interfering with legitimate uses of e-mail. If e-mail were taxed at a rate of three cents per recipient, spammers might have to pay as much as $150,000 a week for the junk mail that they send, making spam a much more costly activity. Gottesman acknowledges that a tax would hit legitimate users as well, but they'd likely pay around $3.00 a day with a three-cent rate -- which would be counterbalanced by the benefits derived from a crackdown on spam:

The tax would be a tiny fraction of the salary costs incurred in composing the emails themselves. For companies the cost would be partly offset by savings in the spam war. By the same token, 40p or 50p a day will not change the life of broadband subscribers, even if they average 20 or 30 emails daily.

But Professor James Maule challenges Gottesman's e-mail taxation proposal on his blog, MauledAgain, characterizing it in two words: "what nonsense." Maule argues that spammers will simply evade the e-mail tax, leaving legitimate users holding the bag. He points out that a tax wouldn't put a large enough damper on the profits spammers make to force them out of business. Maule also expresses concerns about the slippery slope effect of Gottesman's proposals. Following an e-mail tax, authorities might try to expand it to Twitter or Facebook or bloggers. Finally, Maule doesn't believe that tax policy is the best way to deal with problems in general, and that the issue of spam is better confronted head on, through implementation of more effective filters or educational campaigns that teach users to ignore spam instead of responding to it.

Do you think a tax on e-mail would make spam go away? If not, what's your solution for dealing with it?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 29, 2009 at 02:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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