How’s this for a get-rich scheme? Find a way to make $1,000 from anyone who sends you an unsolicited e-mail. Like most such schemes, it sounds too good to be true, but this one has the state of California’s imprimatur. Last night, Gov. Gray Davis signed into law a bill that outlaws sending most commercial e-mail messages to anyone in the state who has not explicitly requested them. Californians will have a right to file private lawsuits to enforce the measure.

The new California law is said to be the most far reaching of any of the dozens of state laws in effect or under consideration banning unsolicited e-mails or spam.

“We are saying that unsolicited e-mail cannot be sent and there are no loopholes,” said Kevin Murray, the Democratic state senator from Los Angeles who sponsored the bill. The measure also prohibits California companies from sending spam to anyone outside the state, imposes stiff fines and allows individual or Internet service providers to sue spammers.

Elsewhere on the Internet annoyance front, Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT – news – people ) said it would shutter its Internet chat rooms in 28 countries as of Oct. 14, saying the forums had become a haven for peddlers of junk e-mail and even pedophiles.

“The straightforward truth of the matter is free unmoderated chat isn’t safe,” Geoff Sutton, European general manager of Microsoft MSN, told Reuters. The action will affect chat services in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and much of Latin America. U.S. consumers can continue to chat as so long as they have some sort of commercial relationship with the software giant. In many parts of the world chat roomers will be forced to find alternative means of communication.

In those regions where chat was free and unsupervised, Microsoft said chat gave rise to a nefarious element, including spam merchants, pornographers and even sexual predators.

Microsoft said it would begin alerting users to the changes later this week. Users in the affected regions will still be able to use Microsoft Messenger, the company’s instant-messaging product.

Sutton told Reuters that the decision was based on consumer experiences and child protection, but also on the company’s interest in building its MSN Messenger service, which competes with instant-message services offered by AOL Time Warner (nyse: AOL – news – people ) and Yahoo! (nasdaq: YHOO – news – people ).

“It’s a signal that some of the joyful early days of the Internet have moved on a bit. Chat was one of those things that was a bit hippy-ish. It was free and open. But a small minority has changed that for everyone. It’s very sad,” Sutton said.

It’s hard to find anyone willing to shed tears for spammers. In fact, legislators around the world, including in England and Australia, have been competing with each other to find ways to stop the practice. California is the latest, but, as a huge state that is home to many technology companies, the hope is that it will be among the most effective.

Meanwhile, Congress is currently debating five different versions of anti-spam legislation, which would potentially preempt state laws such as California’s. Critics have suggested that the California law would unconstitutionally intrude on interstate commerce.

The bill’s sponsors are allowing anyone and everyone to go to court to help enforce the rule. “It turns basically everybody who hates spam into the enforcement authority,” Ray Everett-Church, chief privacy officer for consulting firm ePrivacy Group, told the San Jose Mercury News. “Not everyone will go down to the courthouse, but you’ll get enough of us old cranks who will that we can make it too financially dangerous for spammers to continue.”

But would-be litigants will have to find the spammers first, which is no easy task, as unsolicited e-mail firms typically hide behind phony e-mail addresses and operate offshore.

The law does allow companies to send commercial e-mail messages to their customers, to those who have inquired about products or services, and to those that have “expressly consented to receive e-mail advertisements from the advertiser.” These parts of the law would allow mass e-mail by companies like Yahoo! or Microsoft that run free Web-based e-mail services. But it would ban those who simply rent e-mail lists compiled by others.

“We don’t differentiate between Disney and Viagra,” Senator Murray told The New York Times. “If you go out and rent a list of e-mail addresses, by definition you are not a legitimate business. You are the person we are trying to stop.”
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