Business Law

Understand the CAN-SPAM Law for eMarketing

Congress passed the law known as CAN-SPAM to protect consumers and businesses from unsolicited electronic communications, known as spam. Officially called the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, CAN-SPAM establishes specific legal requirements for emails, text messages, and other electronic communications sent by businesses. CAN-SPAM rules vary, depending on the content and nature of the message.

Rules Cover Commercial Messages

CAN-SPAM governs electronic messages that contain commercial content. "Commercial" messages are those that primarily advertise or promote a product or service. For example, an email announcing the release of a new product is subject to CAN-SPAM. The statute's rules also apply to emails or text messages that refer recipients to a commercial website.

Some Business Messages Are Exempt

Transactional or relationship messages are exempt from nearly all CAN-SPAM rules. These types of messages involve an existing commercial transaction or keep a customer informed about an ongoing commercial relationship. For example, emails that inform customers that their orders have shipped or alert them that a product has been recalled are exempt from CAN-SPAM rules.

CAN-SPAM Outlaws Certain Practices

For all commercial, transactional, and relationship messages, CAN-SPAM requires that the sender's domain name, email address, and other routing information be accurate. A commercial message's "To" and "From" lines cannot contain false or misleading information. Subject lines cannot mislead recipients about the message's nature or content. A commercial message must state that the message is an advertisement or is seeking new business. It must also include the sender's postal address.

Recipients Can Opt Out

CAN-SPAM requires that a commercial email or text message provide recipients a method to opt out of future messages. Many businesses use a return email address as an opt-out method. The sender must stop sending messages within 10 days of receiving the recipient's opt-out request.

Violations May Result in Severe Penalties

Sending illegal spam can be expensive. Each separate message that violates CAN-SPAM rules may result in a fine of up to $16,000. Some deceptive acts, such as sending multiple messages that mislead recipients about their origin, may even result in imprisonment. More than one party may be legally responsible for a CAN-SPAM violation. For example, a company whose product is promoted in an illegal spam message, as well as the company that sent the message, may be subject to CAN-SPAM penalties.

A Business Lawyer Can Help

The law related to CAN-SPAM and commercial electronic messages sent by businesses is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a lawyer.

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