Fax machines send and receive data over a telephone line. Faxes come in the form of text or images. In 1991, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) was passed to prohibit sending unsolicited advertisements to a fax machine. These advertisements are known as “junk faxes.” This law applies to both business and residential fax machines.

What is an Unsolicited Advertisement?

Any material advertising the commercial availability or quality of any goods or services which is transmitted to someone without that person’s permission is an unsolicited advertisement. Beginning January 1, 2005, someone may give permission to send a fax advertisement only with a signed, written statement, including the fax number to which any advertisements may be sent.  Before January 1, 2005, someone who sends faxes may continue to rely on “established business relationships” as permission to fax such an advertisement. Others do not have permission to send you unsolicited advertisements just because your fax number is published or distributed.

Are There Any Laws Against Unsolicited Faxes?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the delivery of faxed advertisements. The rules are:

  • Starting January 1, 2005, it is against the law to send unsolicited advertisements to fax machines without the prior written permission of the recipient.
  • The business on whose behalf the fax is being sent must identify itself.  This must be done in the top or bottom margin of each page or on the first page. It must also include its telephone number and the date and time of transmission.
  • A facsimile broadcaster (whoever transmits the messages on another person’s behalf) who has a “high degree of involvement” in the sender’s messages (i.e. supplying the facsimile numbers to which a message is sent) must provide its own name on the fax.
  • A broadcaster may be liable if it supplies facsimile numbers to a business that sends illegal advertisements.
  • The faxing rules cover faxes sent to fax servers and personal computers as well.

What Can I Do if I Have Received an Unwanted Fax?

There are some measures you can take if you have received an unwanted fax, including:

  • The FCC itself has taken enforcement actions.  This may include issuing citations and fines for violations of the TCPA.
  • You may contact the FCC if you encounter any such incidents.  You may need to supply documentation, including the copies of the faxes you received. You can file a complaint by completing the FCC’s Consumer Complaint Form (which can be found online at www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html or by calling the Consumer Center (1-888-CALL-FCC).  You may also write to: Federal Communications Commission, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau, Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division, 445 12th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20554.
  • You may also wish to contact your state officials, such as local or state consumer protection offices or the state Attorney General’s office.
  • You can also sue the violator in court.  In such a private suit, you can try to recover the monetary loss that resulted from the violation, or receive damages for each violation (up to $500 each).

Do I Need a Lawyer Experienced with these Issues?

A lawyer who has experience with these issues may be able to help you determine the proper course of action.  An entertainment lawyer would be able to determine if you should contact the FCC or if the violations are serious enough to warrant a lawsuit.