Email Marketing Regulations - CAN-SPAM Act [Explained]

Published: July 24, 2019
Author: Martin William Harvey

In 2003 the federal government enacted the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) act to set regulations and requirements for email marketing and email spam.

Among other things, the CAN-SPAM act prohibits email marketers and businesses from adding misleading information to email subject lines, requires a valid return address to be included on every email and prohibits businesses from sending emails to recipients who do not want to be contacted.

Although this article is not intended to, and should not be used in leu of receiving legal advice from a qualified attorney, this article outlines the most important aspects of the CAN-SPAM act that effect business owners and provides ways to avoid infringing on the federal regulations.

Should you take the CAN-SPAM act seriously? Yes, you should! Each separate email that is found to not be in compliance with the CAN-SPAM act is subject to penalties of $41,484 – not complying to this act can be a costly decision.

Below are the CAN-SPAM act’s main requirements provided by the Federal Trade Commission as well as our explanations of each requirement.

Don’t Use False or Misleading Header Information

The CAN-SPAM act requires that the email you send must be identifiable. This includes providing the reader with accurate information in the “From”, “To”, “Reply-To” and routing information categories. You should also include the originating email address and domain name in the email, as well as, accurately identify the business or person the email was sent from.

Don’t Use Deceptive Subject Lines

Avoid adding content to the email subject line that are not relevant to the content within the email. The subject line must accurately reflect the content in the email message.

Identify the Message as an Advertisement

The CAN-SPAM act allows businesses a lot of flexibility on this requirement. However, somewhere in the email the sender must disclose clearly and conspicuously that the message being sent is an advertisement.

Include a Valid Return Address

Your email must include a valid return address where the sender can receive mail. This can be a current business address, home address, a private mail box or a P.O box registered with the U.S Postal Service. For home-based businesses who don’t feel comfortable adding their home address to each email, it is advised by the Federal Trade Commission to purchase a P.O box at your local Post Office.

Include an Opt-Out

Each email must include a clear and conspicuous way for the recipient to opt-out of future emails from the sender. This notice has to be easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read and understand. You must provide either a postal address or an easy internet-based way for the recipient to communicate this choice with you. According to the FTC, “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.”

Honor the Opt-Out Request

The CAN-SPAM act requires that the sender honor the recipients request to opt-out of unwanted emails, so make sure these opt-out emails are not going to your spam folder!

Furthermore, you must honor the recipients opt-out request within 10 business days and you can’t charge a fee, require the recipient give any information other than their email address, or make the recipient take more than a step of emailing the sender or visiting a single internet-based page as a condition for honoring the recipients opt-out request.

In addition, once the recipient has opted-out of the sender’s emails, the sender cannot sell or transfer their email address, even in the form of a mailing list. The exception to this rule, is when the sender transfers the opted-out email addresses to a company they’ve hired to comply with the CAN-SPAM act.

Monitor what Others are Doing on Your Behalf

The CAN-SPAM act makes it clear, that you can hire a third-party to monitor and execute your email marketing services, however you cannot contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company that promotes the email or messages and the company that actually sends the email or messages may be held legally responsible.

For more information about the CAN-SPAM act, visit the Federal Trade Commissions website at www.ftc.gov.

You can also read the CAN-SPAM act in its entirety here.

This article is intended to be used for informational purposes only and should not be substituted for legal advice. Please consult an attorney if you have any questions about your legal obligations to this act, or if you feel you are infringing upon the CAN-SPAM acts regulations.