Steve Kirsch doesn't work in the fax machine industry, but you could be forgiven for thinking so. Kirsch, 47, owns San Jose-based Propel Software Corp., a 50-employee, multimillion-dollar company allowing PC users to inexpensively speed up their dial-up connection service. In his spare time, he's taking on companies that send unsolicited faxes. And he's doing it in a big way, filing a $2.2 trillion class-action lawsuit against Fax.com (he's still waiting for class-action certification before he can sue). Kirsch is so vehemently opposed to junk faxes that he created a Web site dedicated to eliminating the problem (www.junkfax.org).
How did this start?
Steve Kirsch: In December
2001, I received a fax at my office about how I could repair my
credit for $59. I had received similar faxes a month earlier,
offering the same credit-
repair course for $39. Then I received a duplicate fax two minutes later. It really pissed me off. I did some research and learned the 800 numbers on the faxes belong to Fax.com.
What response have you had from other entrepreneurs and consumers?
Kirsch: Most people thank me. A few people asked me why I'm wasting my time on junk faxes when I could be helping world hunger or some other cause. The reason is pretty simple: I receive over 1,000 junk faxes [per] year on my home [office] fax machine. I get fax calls at all hours of the day and night on my voice lines. The advertiser has local computers dialing the phones, so all the costs for advertising are shifted onto the consumer. These people have no right to demand the paper and ink I pay for and then demand the use of my machine to convey their message. There are probably 10 million others who are [as] fed up as I am. If someone was already doing something about this problem, I wouldn't bother with it. But the problem has only gotten worse. So I decided to devote some time to stopping it.
What have you learned since you began working on the problem?
Kirsch: Our system of justice works very slowly. The federal junk-fax law has been on the books for 12 years, and we're still seeing erroneous rulings by judges. The junk-fax firms are now attempting to appeal to the Supreme Court. Twelve years after a strong junk-fax law was passed, the bad guys continue to operate freely.
Geoff Williams is a writer in Loveland, Ohio. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.