Unsolicited e-faxes — documents converted to an email or attachment between the faxer and a recipient — are subject to the same consumer protections as unsolicited conventional faxes, according to a recent Federal Communications Commission declaratory ruling.

The ruling built upon certain provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Junk Fax Protection Act, establishing that unsolicited communications that begin as faxes, including those converted to an electronic format after they are sent, justify consumer protection because e-faxes can cause some of the same issues and costs for businesses as conventional faxes.

E-faxes “can increase labor costs for businesses, whose employees must monitor faxes to separate unwanted from desired faxes,” the ruling said, making unwanted electronic faxes harmful to businesses even though they result in different costs than traditional faxes, such as paper, ink, and toner.

Furthermore, the FCC clarified that the TCPA “applies to a fax that is sent as a fax over a telephone line to a device that meets the statutory definition of ‘telephone facsimile machine.’” The ruling also elaborated that an e-fax is described as “an end-to-end communication that starts when the faxed document is sent over a telephone line and ends when the converted document is received on a computer.”

The agency determined that because of these reasons “it would make little sense” to not use the rules pertaining to faxes already in place.

The order addresses more than 100 waiver requests regarding e-faxes, which the FCC deemed to be an “easy, cost-free” way for fax recipients to avoid faxes they may have previously wanted but no longer want to receive.

Additionally, the agency refused to provide specific guidelines for opt out language for e-faxes, noting, “fax opt-out notice requirements have been in place for more than seven years and we have no evidence that other fax senders have struggled with finding language that would satisfy those requirements.”