CAN-SPAM Act - Email Marketing Regulation in the United States

Published: 08-Jun-2021
Last Updated: 26-Sep-2021
CAN-SPAM Act - Email Marketing Regulation in the United States

CAN-SPAM (The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act) is a United States law that was put in place to regulate how email can be sent and what information must be included in the message. This article will go over some of the basic requirements for CAN-SPAM Act compliance, so you can stay compliant with this law and not risk being fined.

The FTC defines commercial email as, “content which advertises or promotes a commercial product or service, including content on a website operated for a commercial purpose.” This means the CAN-SPAM Act regulates both bulk/mass emails and individual emails sent for business purposes. 

It’s one of the oldest and now it has become one of the most lenient major pieces of legislation regulating email marketing. The CAN-SPAM Act was signed into law in 2003 ( a 22-year-old entering the workforce in 2021 would have been in Pre-K). Compare this to CASL (implemented in 2014) and GDPR (Implemented in 2018).

Despite the higher international email regulation standards set by CASL (Canadian Anti Spam Law) & GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) in recent years, it is important for email marketers selling products in the United States to be familiar with CAN-SPAM requirements enforced by the FTC. 

According to the FTC, the cost of a single CAN-SPAM violation is up to $43,792. So we hope you will read on, familiarize yourself with how to comply, and ultimately avoid getting on a first-name basis with a representative of the FTC. 

A CAN-SPAM Act Compliant Business:

Clearly Indicates Who is Sending the Email

Your “From”,” “To”, and “Reply-To” must make the sender’s identity obvious to the recipient. 

CAN SPAM Act Writes Subject Lines that are Consistent with Email Content

If your subject line misrepresents the content of the email it is a clear violation of the CAN-SPAM Act. 

CAN SPAM Act Admits when an Email is an Advertisement

This doesn't mean businesses have to literally write "this is an advertisement" in every email they send. This just means that the commercial intent of the e-mail message should be clear to the recipient. 

CAN SPAM Act Includes a Physical Address

Every email you send must include your business's postal address, p.o. box, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.

CAN SPAM Act Makes it Easy for Recipients to Opt-Out

You must provide a FREE and “easy Internet-based way” for email recipients to communicate that they do not want to receive messages from your company. 

CAN SPAM Act Processes Opt-Out Requests in a Timely Fashion

Your company must process all opt-out requests within 10 business days of receiving them. 

CAN SPAM Act Ensures Outsourced Work Complies

The buck stops with you. If the agency you hired fails to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, you may be subject to criminal penalties. 

Simple enough. Right? If your company honestly represents itself (name, location, intent) and makes it easy for recipients to opt-out, you should have no problem complying with CAN-SPAM Act. 

It's even simpler because email service providers like ActiveCampaign, Hubspot and Mailchimp have built compliance into their service. These companies have created templates with compliant aspects built-in and make it more difficult for those users who are attempting to violate email regulations to do so. 

That being said, it's important to remember what the potential financial ramifications are. A single email can cost you up to $41,000. Yikes!

On the flip side of that coin, a study from EveryAction (2019) found that the monthly spam rate for email sent by nonprofits was 20.18% in 2018. The study put a dollar amount on all of that lost opportunity. The study estimated that nonprofits lost out on $92.8 MILLION because of spam filters and low deliverability rates.

Carbon Digital recommends that businesses hold themselves to a higher standard than the bar set by the CAN-SPAM Act. Flirting with these standards will lead to bad customer experiences, a shady reputation, and potentially legal consequences. If your business is always honest, respectful of your subscribers' time, and of their requests, you will be well on your way to compliance. 


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