CAN-SPAM: Just the facts

“Like almost everyone who uses e-mail, I receive a ton of spam every day. Much of it offers to help me get out of debt or get rich quick. It would be funny if it weren’t so exciting.”

– Bill Gates on spam

Every so often it is prudent to take a refresher on fundamental email marketing topics and best practices. CAN-SPAM, officially known as the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003, is one of the most important online marketing topics. To follow are some of the basic facts, principals and rules concerning CAN-SPAM legislation. But like most legislation, this is not a simple bill. I recommend reading the entire act to learn more details.


Opt-Out and Opt-in Rules:

  • Opt-out email addresses cannot be shared or sold for marketing purposes.
  • The opt-out option must be available to recipients for at least 30 days after they receive a commercial email.
  • Opt-out requests must be handled within 10 business days.
  • Opt-out methods must be available either via an email option or single web page option.
  • If affirmative consent is not used, the email must be identified in the body of the message as an advertisement and include a valid brick-and-mortar postal address.

Other Related Information:

  • The CAN-SPAM Act went into effect January 1, 2004.
  • Header information must be correct and legitimate.
  • An email’s “from” and “to” lines must be accurate. This includes the originating domain name, and identifying the organization or person who initiated the email.
  • The subject line cannot mislead email recipients about the content within the email.
  • Email addresses cannot be harvested, and automated means cannot be used to create email addresses.
  • Clear and conspicuous notice at the time the consent was communicated” must be given if an email address is to be shared with a third party.
  • CAN-SPAM law is intended for the U.S. only.
  • It is up to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the State Attorney General, and ISP’s to prosecute CAN-SPAM offenses. A spammer can be subject to a maximum $16,000 fine per violation. One of the largest CAN-SPAM violation settlements to date was $2.9 million in penalties. This case occurred in 2008.

So those are the rules. Pay close attention and as always, Happy Marketing!

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