Federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003
The CAN-SPAM Act is a federal law established in 2003 that outlines the rules for commercial e-mail, describing specific and easy-to-follow requirements for commercial e-mail messages.
If you send e-mail on behalf of your business, you should be aware of the CAN-SPAM Act and your e-mail messages should comply with its rules and requirements.
Failure to comply with the rules can result in expensive penalties.
Why You Should Care About the CAN-SPAM Act
There are two important reasons your e-mail messages should comply with the CAN-SPAM Act:
- Penalties: Each separate e-mail message violating the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $40,654. Non-compliance can be costly.
- Good Business Sense: E-mail messages that conform to the rules defined by the CAN-SPAM Act will deliver a more professional and user-friendly experience for the recipients of your commercial e-mail messages.
E-mail Message Requirements
The list below was copied directly from the Federal Trade Commission’s Compliance Guide for your convenience. You should read the full Compliance Guide before planning or sending any commercial e-mail.
- Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To” and routing information – including the originating domain name and e-mail address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
- Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
- Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
- Tell recipients where you’re located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
- Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future e-mail from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting e-mail from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read and understand. Creative use of type size, color and location can improve clarity. Give a return e-mail address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you. Make sure your spam filter doesn’t block these opt-out requests.
- Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply e-mail or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their e-mail addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
- Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your e-mail marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.
The above list comes from the FTC Compliance Guide, where you can find additional information and easy-to-understand examples.
Commercial e-mail services like Constant Contact, MailChimp and VerticalResponse provide features that not only help with CAN-SPAM Act compliance, but also provide professional e-mail templates and a wealth of message delivery-related metrics. These services also provide options to send e-mail in concert with social media marketing initiatives and record metrics related to social media interactions from your e-mail messages.