The CAN-SPAM Act

What You'll Learn

Best Practices Go Beyond Just “Legal Compliance”

The “Do’s & “Don’ts” of CAN SPAM

When Does The CAN-SPAM Act Apply?

Introductory Note: This article is not meant to be a source of legal advice & we will not be going into detail about the components of the CAN-SPAM Act.

Please remember that federal laws in regards to email marketing are only created to limit abusive behaviors. From our perspective, compliance with these laws does not cover all of the “best practices” that you should be using in your email program.

You Can Still Be Considered a Spammer, Even If You Are Compliant

The CAN-SPAM Act, developed in 2003, was established to protect consumers from receiving any sort of unsolicited email from brands and businesses.

Why is understanding the regulations important to you? 

  • It will ensure you understand deliverability compliance 
  • Non-compliance can cost you a lot of $$! Failure to adhere to the CAN-SPAM Act could result in high penalties- each separate email that violates the act could cost up to $16,000. 
  • The CAN-SPAM Act covers all commercial messages, including emails that promote content on commercial websites. 
  • The Act does not make exceptions for business to business email.

The “Do’s” & “Don’ts” of CAN-SPAM

How can you ensure you are following CAN-SPAM regulations? 

  • Don’t: Do not trick your consumer by using false or misleading headers.
    • Clearly identify your business. Your labels (From, To, Reply to) & routing information must all be accurate. 
  • Don’t: Don’t be deceptive with your subject line.
    • Provide subject lines that accurately describe the content of your email.
  • Do: Make sure your subject line is accurate to the content of your message.
    • Make it simple! Keep it short and offer value to your customer. 
  • Do: If your email is an ad, let your customer know!
    • Commercial messages must identify if an email is an advertisement. 
  • Do: Let your customer know where you are located.
    • You must include a valid physical postal address within your emails. This can be a street address, P.O. Box,  or private mailbox that is registered with a commercial mail receiving agency.
  • Do: Give your customers the option to opt out of receiving future communication from you.¬†All of your emails must include clear instructions on how customers are able to opt out of receiving future communications.
    • How can you do this?
      • Make it easy for customers who want to opt out to do so! You can achieve this by making it easy to read, recognize and understand. 
      • Place the unsubscribe in a spot that is easy to find! 
  • Do: If a contact opts out, quickly remove them.
    • The CAN-SPAM Act gives you 10 days to do this, however try to honor this sooner. 
    • Once a customer opts out, you cannot sell or transfer their email address. The one exception is the transfer of an address to a company you have hired to help you comply with CAN-SPAM regulations. 
  • Do: Keep on eye on what others are doing on your behalf.
    • It is your responsibility to make sure that your business is following CAN-SPAM regulations. Even in cases where email management is contracted out, both you and the company sending the message can be held legally responsible.

When Does the CAN-SPAM Act Apply to You?

The Federal Trade Commission defined three types of information that is sent in emails. 

  1. Commercial content: anything that advertises or promotes a commercial product or service. 
  2. Transactional or Relational Content: These include:
    • Agreed upon transactions or updates to a customer regarding an ongoing transaction
    • Warranty, recall, safety, or security information about a product. 
    • Change in terms of service, features or account balance information (memberships, subscriptions, accounts, loans) 
    • Employment related information/ benefits 
    • Delivery of goods or services to customers that have been agreed to 
  3. Other content: neither commercial, transactional, or relationship.

If you would like more information on the CAN-SPAM Act check out the Federal Trade Commission’s website here!

Updated on March 11, 2024

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