A group of law firms who previously represented numerous TCPA "professional plaintiffs" is getting a taste of their own medicine as they are now the defendants in a class action lawsuit. Jeffrey Winters and his company, Collection Solutions Inc., is the named plaintiff in the case Winters v. Jones, filed on December 5, 2016. Click here to view a copy of the civil complaint. Defendants include, among others, Laura Mann and Yitchak Zelman, counsel for numerous plaintiff TCPA cases.
The defendants have allegedly been engaging in what is essentially a "racketeering" operation since early 2013. The lawsuit alleges this involved the filing of numerous, baseless TCPA and similar consumer protection lawsuits by the defendants against debt collection and other companies. The defendants would demand settlements in the range of $10,000 to $100,000, assuming that most of their target companies would take advantage of the less expensive settlement instead of investing even more money and time in a drawn-out litigation.
The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), an organization similar to the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission in the United States, has issued a $50,000 penalty to Blackstone Learning Corporation. This is the firstenforcement decisionon Canada's anti-spam law that was passed over two years ago.
Blackstone sent over 385,000 unsolicited emails to the email addresses of government employees that were gathered through various websites. These marketing emails promoted the company's technical writing, grammar, and stress-management programs. Blackstone argued that because the email addresses were published for the public on the internet, there was implied consent. The CRTC countered this argument because the law only allows for unsolicited messages to "conspicuously published" addresses where the content of the message is relevant to the recipients official position.
The penalty was originally set at $640,000, but after some deliberation the CRTC eventually determined that Blackstone would be unable to pay that much. The $50,000 penalty was determined to be more appropriate.
For marketers in the US, this serves as a good reminder to understand both Canada's Anti-Spam Law and the CAN-SPAM act.
Friends and clients, just hours ago the FTC published its finalized new staff opinion letter regarding avatar or "soundboard" technology. The letter is signed by the FTC's Lois Greisman, Associate Director, Division of Marketing Practices. The letter can be foundhereand should be immediately reviewed by any company who uses or offers avatar calling solutions.
The letter clarifies that FTC regulators will no longer treat avatar differently than other prerecorded robocalls. The new policy will become effective six months from now, on May 12, 2017.
Avatar calling occurs when a contact center agent plays pre-recorded snippets instead of using her/his own natural voice. The phone agent can normally still interject with live voice as needed, but can also handle multiple calls simultaneously. While not the official position of the Commission, the letter reflects the opinion of the FTC regulators who currently enforce the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
Two facts are encouraging. First, the letter has no direct effect on the FTC or the TCPA, which remain silent about soundboard technology. Second, the letter emphasizes that not all uses of avatar are illegal. For example, the technology may still be used within certain limitations for inbound, non-marketing and certain non-profit calls.
We had hoped the FTC would punt the avatar issue until after the new president takes over in January of 2017. The extent to which the new administration might seek to scale back relevant regulation and enforcement remains unclear. The year 2017 should prove to be very interesting, on the soundboard front and many other regulatory issues facing our industry.