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Idea Box: Ensure Compliance with Email Marketing Laws
Email marketing compliance: Federal law includes strict requirements for all commercial email and stiff penalties for violations.

By Staff
Date Posted: 2/1/2014

                If a company has collected a list of email addresses belonging to former, current and potential customers, email marketing seems like a logical and smart way to use them. But be careful. Federal laws are very specific about what is allowed in marketing emails and violators face tough penalties.

                The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act sets the rules for commercial email and gives recipients the right to have companies stop emailing them. Penalties can be as high as $16,000 for each email that contains violations. It is important to note that more than one person may be held responsible for violations. Thus, companies that outsource their promotions can be held legally responsible for messages that promote their products, even if they do not send them.

                To ensure that your company does not end up being slapped with CAN-SPAM penalties, ensure that everyone who sends emails on behalf of your company follows these guidelines.

                1. Don’t use false or misleading information in email headers. The “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 inaccurate or deceptive subject lines. Subject lines must reflect the content of the message.

                3. Identify commercial message as ads. The law gives a lot of leeway in how this is done, but a clear and conspicuous notice that the message is an advertisement must be included.

                4. Include the company location. Commercial messages must include the valid physical postal address of your company.

                5. Give recipients a way to opt out of receiving future emails. Messages must include easy-to-follow and conspicuous directions on how recipients can opt out of receiving your emails in the future. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on a website.

                6. Honor opt-out requests quickly. An opt-out request must be honored within 10 business days.

                Most of the CAN-SPAM Act provisions apply only to emails whose main purpose is commercial, not those that are transactional or relationship in purpose. If your company often sends emails that combine commercial and transactional or relationship content, the safest approach is to ensure that the primary purpose of each email is transactional or relationship. Under the CAN-SPAM Act, the primary purpose of an email is transactional or relationship if it consists only of content that:

                1. facilitates or confirms a transaction that the recipient has already agreed to;

                2. gives warranty, recall, safety, or security information about a product or service;

                3. gives information about a change in terms of features or account balance information regarding a membership, subscription, account, loan or other ongoing commercial relationship;

                4. provides information about an employment relationship or employee benefits; or

                5. delivers goods or services as part of a transaction that the recipient already has agreed to.

                When a message combines commercial content and transactional or relationship content, it is considered primarily transactional or relationship in purpose only if the subject line does not lead the recipient  to think it’s a commercial message and the bulk of the transactional or relationship part of the message appears at the beginning of the message.

                More details on CAN-SPAM requirements and helpful resources from the Federal Trade Commission are available online at http://www.business.ftc.gov/content/can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business.

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