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Lawyers Responsible for a Key Internet Milestone: Spam

Later this week the Internet will celebrate its 30th birthday, and to mark the occasion the Associated Press rounds up some of the key milestones in Web history. Not surprisingly, engineers and scientists are primarily responsible for the technological developments that helped the Internet grow from a primitive interconnection between two computers into a global, publicly accessible system. But lawyers, too, have played a key role in shaping the Internet that we know today -- by introducing the world to spam.

That's right. Back in 1994, the husband-and-wife law firm of Canter & Siegel came up with what was then a novel approach to advertising their firm's immigration services. They contracted with a computer developer to create a program to generate advertising for the firm's Green Card Lottery service and to spread it to 6,000 Usenet discussion groups. Users rebelled, sending so many complaints to Canter & Siegel's Internet Service Provider that the company's servers crashed, leading the ISP to terminate Canter & Siegel's account and the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility to open an investigation of the pair. The firm remained unrepentant, claiming that their low cost ad generated 1,000 new clients and $100,000 in revenue.

But at what cost? Fifteen years later, spam remains a substantial problem for the Internet. Meanwhile, lawyers have gone on to advertise online in other, less intrusive ways through Web sites, blogs and now social media. Many of these new online marketing tools help level the playing field for solo and small firm lawyers, while providing valuable information at no cost to consumers, both of which are benefits in my view. I'm no fan of spam, but perhaps the Canter & Siegel legacy isn't entirely negative.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 31, 2009 at 03:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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