What is the CAN-SPAM Act?
The CAN-SPAM Act stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing. Signed into law in the United States in late 2003, CAN-SPAM is the first such law to establish a nationwide set of standards for the sending of commercial email. Under CAN-SPAM, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is tasked with enforcing the act’s provisions.
At the time, the U.S. was facing an increasing number of complaints surrounding unwanted spam emails; the CAN-SPAM Act is credited with helping to drastically reduce the overall volume of unsolicited emails in the years since its passage. It’s important to note that CAN-SPAM law only applies to the United States — Canada has its own set of anti-spam laws known as CASL.
Why should marketers care about CAN-SPAM?
The CAN-SPAM Act establishes hard guidelines for what constitutes a marketing email: “A commercial electronic mail message [is] any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service (including content on an Internet website operated for a commercial purpose).”
Since email marketing is a cornerstone of modern ad campaigns — whether for sales or lead-generation — marketers need to be especially wary that their emails fully comply with these regulations. There are three central pillars when it comes to compliance with CAN-SPAM:
- Sending: The email header cannot obscure or hide the information of the server that sent it; the header must contain accurate info pointing back to the email’s sending server.
- Content: An email’s “From:” line and subject line must accurately reflect the contents of the message, and the message must include the physical contact address of the advertiser or publisher.
- Unsubscribe: Every email must contain a visible and clearly labeled unsubscribe link, and requests to unsubscribe must be honored within 10 days.
However, specifically excluded from CAN-SPAM are transactional emails — messages or communication concerning a purchase or the use of a service. For example, a confirmation message sent after buying something online is a transactional email, which is not subject to CAN-SPAM, while a message advertising a sale on that website is considered a marketing email and therefore falls under CAN-SPAM.
Criminal and civil violations of the CAN-SPAM act can carry serious repercussions for offenders — in some cases, spammers who have fallen afoul of the CAN-SPAM act have faced multimillion-dollar fines and lengthy prison sentences.
How can I stay compliant with CAN-SPAM?
The FTC’s website has a list of helpful tips and guidelines for making sure your business stays compliant with CAN-SPAM. Here are some of the main takeaways that any marketer who uses email should follow:
- Provide recipients with a clear and easy-to-read unsubscribe link, and promptly honor all opt-out requests.
- Tempting as it may be, don’t be misleading with your subject lines and headers — make sure they’re as accurate as possible.
- Explicitly identify to the reader that your content is an ad or promotional material
- Tell your readers where you’re located by providing a contact address where you or your business can legally receive physical mail.
- Pay careful attention to how affiliates or agencies are advertising on your behalf — you may be on the hook if someone violates CAN-SPAM while representing your business.
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