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Unwanted faxes could create $270M headache for Tampa Bay Bucs

TAMPA — Some among us remember the fax machine, that monument to late 20th century office technology whose vogue peaked sometime before the crumbling of the Berlin Wall.

There may even be a fax machine tucked away in a quiet corner of your office, lighting up every few days as it receives a news release about a local furniture sale, its muted beeps like the gibbering of an old soldier recounting past campaigns to an empty room.

While it might be obsolescent in the era of digital communication, the fax machine is poised to play an unlikely central role in a high-stakes lawsuit against the owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in federal court.

A Gainesville business, exasperated by faxed ads for Buccaneers tickets several years ago, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tampa earlier this week, alleging the football franchise violated a federal statute that outlaws "junk faxes."

Because the lawsuit asserts that 180,000 people were sent such fax messages, the team could theoretically be liable for $90 million under the Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2005, which establishes a $500 fine for each unwanted fax. That figure could range as high as $270 million if the court determines that the faxes were "intentional," said Tampa attorney Michael Addison.

Addison, who is representing Cin-Q Automobiles Inc. in the suit, said the business owner "was annoyed" by a fax in 2009 and sought out legal recourse. It is unclear whether the situation was aggravated by the Bucs' 3-13 record that year.

In court papers, Addison asks a federal judge to certify Cin-Q's complaint as a class-action lawsuit. A previous suit was filed but withdrawn in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

"It's a big enough case that we thought it probably belonged in federal court," Addison said.

Nelson Luis, director of communications for the Buccaneers, declined to comment on the faxes because of the pending litigation.

Addison can make the unusual claim of being a pioneer in the field of fax law, having worked a decade ago on a case in which Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that plaintiffs can sue in state court under the federal junk-fax statute.

Luis would not comment on whether the Bucs' faxes are still being sent, but Addison said he believes the team relented sometime in 2010, after the suit was initially filed in state court.

"I got one of these faxes myself," Addison said.

The federal lawsuit offers the humble fax machine and its legal trappings a brief return to prominence. But even Addison acknowledged that the shadows lengthen in the legal terrain he helped to map.

"I have a fax machine, and it hardly ever turns on anymore," the lawyer said.

Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3337.

Unwanted faxes could create $270M headache for Tampa Bay Bucs 06/21/13 [Last modified: Friday, June 21, 2013 10:37pm]

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