🎉    We’re live on Product Hunt right now.    🎉


What is CAN-SPAM?

The CAN-SPAM Act is a law in the United States that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have emails stopped from being sent to them, and spells out tough penalties for violations. Its full name is the “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003”, and it’s intended to curb the problem of unwanted and unsolicited emails.

What are the requirements of CAN-SPAM?

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 establishes the requirements for commercial email messages. The act prohibits false or misleading header information, deceptive subject lines, and deceptive messages in the body of the email that can give any wrong impression to the customer.

Key aspects of the CAN-SPAM Act include:

  1. No False or Misleading Header Information: The email’s “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. No Deceptive Subject Lines: The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
  3. Identify the Message as an Ad: The law gives a lot of leeway in how this is done, but it requires that the email clearly and conspicuously disclose that it is an advertisement or solicitation.
  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. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand.
  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.
  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 are the benefits of CAN-SPAM?

There are many benefits of CAN-SPAM. To start with, it gives businesses a way to legally send commercial emails and share information with their customers. It also sets some guidelines for how those emails should be formatted and what information needs to be included in them. This can help businesses avoid spam filters and ensure that their emails are more likely to be delivered to recipients’ inboxes.

CAN-SPAM also provides a way for recipients to unsubscribe from email lists more easily without going through difficult steps.

What are the penalties for violating CAN-SPAM?

Violating the CAN-SPAM Act can result in some significant penalties. The law is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the consequences for non-compliance are as follows:

  1. Financial Penalties: Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $43,792. This means that if a company sends out a large number of non-compliant emails, the total fines can quickly add up to a substantial amount.
  2. Criminal Penalties: In certain severe cases, more egregious violations of the CAN-SPAM Act could lead to criminal charges, including imprisonment. This could happen for offenses such as sending emails through unauthorized access to a computer system (hacking), using email to commit identity theft or other fraudulent acts, or sending sexually explicit content without labeling the email as such.
  3. Aggravated Violations: The Act also provides for enhanced penalties in certain situations, known as “aggravated violations.” These can include things like harvesting email addresses (collecting them without permission), generating email addresses using a dictionary attack (using a program to generate emails by combining names, letters, or numbers), and relaying or retransmitting messages through a computer or network without permission.
  4. Legal Costs and Damages: Businesses in violation may also face lawsuits and could be required to pay legal costs and damages to those affected by the spam.
  5. Loss of Business Reputation: Beyond legal penalties, businesses that violate the CAN-SPAM Act can suffer damage to their reputation, leading to a loss of consumer trust and potentially impacting sales and partnerships.

It’s important for any business engaging in email marketing to fully understand and comply with the CAN-SPAM Act to avoid these penalties and maintain a positive relationship with their customers and the public. Compliance is not only a legal requirement but also a good business practice.

What are the exceptions to CAN-SPAM?

The CAN-SPAM Act primarily targets commercial messages – emails whose primary purpose is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service. However, the Act makes a distinction between different types of email content, which leads to some exceptions or different treatment under the law:

  1. Transactional or Relationship Messages: Emails that are primarily informational, intended to facilitate an already agreed-upon transaction, or update a customer about an ongoing transaction, are exempted from most of the requirements of the CAN-SPAM Act. These could include messages that deliver goods or services as agreed upon in a transaction that the recipient already has consented to, updates or notifications about existing transactions, warranty information, product recalls, or safety or security information about a product that the recipient has purchased or uses.
  2. Non-Commercial Content: Emails that do not have a primary purpose of commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service are not subject to the CAN-SPAM Act. This includes messages with content such as political, religious, or charitable solicitations, as these are not considered commercial content.
  3. Personal Messages: Emails sent from one individual to another, where the content is personal in nature, are not covered by the CAN-SPAM Act. This is because the Act focuses on bulk email and not on personal, one-to-one communications.

It’s important to note that even transactional or relationship messages must not contain false or misleading routing information. However, they are not required to comply with the other provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act, such as including an opt-out mechanism or a physical postal address.

How can I comply with CAN-SPAM?

It covers things like when you need to get consent from people before you start emailing them, how you need to identify yourself in emails through sender information, and how you need to handle unsubscribe requests without giving trouble to your customers.

To comply with CAN-SPAM, you need to make sure that all of your emails include an unsubscribe link, and that you honor unsubscribe requests within 10 days. You also need to make sure that your emails include your physical mailing address, and that you identify yourself as the sender.

If you’re not sure how to comply with CAN-SPAM, there are a number of resources available online, including the FTC’s guide to CAN-SPAM compliance which you can refer.

Stay one step ahead.

Sign up for our newsletter for tips, tricks and best practices.

    We won’t spam you or sell your information. You’ll receive a once per quarter newsletter packed with content

    Related Terms