Three of the largest US marketing trade organisations are calling on lawmakers to pass an anti-spam measure as soon as possible.

The presidents of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers and the Direct Marketing Association have written an open letter to Congress warning that "ecommerce will be crippled" without immediate action on a national basis.

"We urge you," they declared, "to pass legislation that will clearly distinguish acceptable commercial email from unlawful spam, and impose stiff criminal penalties on those who fall on the wrong side of the law."

In particular, the letter calls on Congress to pass the existing CAN-SPAM Act or the Reduction in Distribution of Spam Act, either of which will "go after the bad guys on spam and avert a crisis that will bring legitimate electronic commerce to a screeching halt."

By taking the initiative, the three bodies hope to safeguard the rights of legitimate commercial emailers. The trio claims other proposals for clamping down on spam, such as a do-not-email register, could inadvertently endanger the livelihoods of responsible online traders. They cite US Census Bureau figures showing 12% of the $138 billion (€118bn; £82bn) ecommerce market is generated by legitimate commercial email -- meaning a sector worth $17.5bn is under threat unless lawmakers act carefully.

But if Congress does nothing, the letter argues, consumers and the media will suffer, businesses will face mammoth legal bills due to ill-conceived lawsuits, and a patchwork of different state laws will hinder legitimate email trading.

The full text of the letter, which was published in the Roll Call newspaper, can be found on the AAAA website.

Data sourced from: American Association of Advertising Agencies; additional content by WARC staff