The CAN-SPAM Act in Layman’s Terms

If you had an email account in the 1990s or the early 2000s, you probably know what it’s like to be bombarded with tawdry exclamation-point-ridden spam emails. You know, the ones that went along the lines of, “ONE POUND A DAY DIET!!!” and “The Internet Spy Guide! Find Out Info About Anyone!” Those spam emails were irritating, unavoidable, and always in your inbox. In fact, spam consumed so much bandwidth that it turned into a huge problem – so huge that the government had to get involved.

In 2003, the United States Congress passed the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act. In December of that year, President George W. Bush signed it into law. The Act is a compliance guide for businesses involved in email marketing.

Despite its name, the CAN-SPAM Act was designed to impose hefty fines that could run up to $16,000 to anyone who sent out unsolicited gimmicky spam emails. No one is immune to the Act, so that’s why it’s very important for any business owner, including you, to understand and comply with it.

The CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t just apply to bulk emails. It covers all commercial messages with the primary purpose of advertising or promoting a commercial product or service. In other words, the Act concerns all businesses that use email marketing.

If your business uses email marketing, don’t panic! You’ve come to the right place because we put together a list of CAN-SPAM’s key requirements in layman’s terms. Here’s what the CAN-SPAM Act wants you to do:

Only email the people who have willingly joined your mailing list.

Anything else classifies as unsolicited mail. You can get reported and fined for sending out unsolicited bulk messages, so be sure to email only the people who have subscribed to your mailing list.

Give your recipients an easy way to opt out of future messages.

You have to give clear directions on how to unsubscribe to your mailing list, and you cannot make your recipients give their personal information other than their email address. Also, your opt-out method cannot include anything further than sending an email or visiting a single web page. You may allow your recipients to change their preferences, but you still have to include the option to opt-out altogether.

Identify yourself clearly.

Ensure that your header information is 100% accurate. That means the “From”, “To”, “Reply to” and routing information cannot be deceptive. You have to include the originating domain name and email address(es). You also must disclose your valid physical address, which can be your current street address, a PO box, or a private mailbox with a mail receiving agency approved by the U.S. Postal Service.

Use accurate subject lines.

Using false or exaggerated information to trick your recipients into opening messages is a huge no-no. Be as truthful as possible when writing your subject lines.

Disclose that each message is an advertisement or a solicitation.

There are so many different ways you could do this. All CAN-SPAM requires that the notice is clear and visible in each message.

Accept responsibility for everything.

If you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you’re still responsible for complying with the CAN-SPAM Act. The best way to take responsibility in such a situation is to monitor what the company is doing on your behalf and ensure that all of the rules are being followed.

Those are the key requirements of CAN-SPAM, but it’s still a good idea to go over all of the rules to ensure that you don’t miss anything. You may read the whole CAN-SPAM Act here.