How the CAN-SPAM Act Affects You as a Webpreneur

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You probably aren't aware of this, but there's a law called the CAN-SPAM Act that dictates email marketing, email campaigns, and your newsletter list.  Fines and penalties can add up to well over tens of thousands of dollars in the United States.  

According to the FTC, the CAN-SPAM Act is "a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations. "

What the heck is a commercial message?

The law defines this as “'any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,' including email that promotes content on commercial websites. The law makes no exception for business-to-business email. That means all email – for example, a message to former customers announcing a new product line – must comply with the law. "

What is the big deal? 

"Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $40,654, so non-compliance can be costly." 

This means, each individual email that you send to each person. So if you send one email to ten people that is ten violations. Ten violations at say the max penalty fee of $40,654 is $406,540 for which you are now responsible.  

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Well, dang. How do I make sure I am compliant? 

I'm so glad you asked!

Here's a breakdown from the FTC themselves:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
  3. Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. 
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. 
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.

What I see most people doing is not realizing they need to have a valid physical location to your business included in your email newsletters.  You can read more from the FTC website themselves.

Read more: The FTC compliance guide to the CAN-SPAM Act.


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