CAN SPAM Act 2003 and your email marketing campaign

Are you sending business emails to recipients anywhere in the United States? The US CAN SPAM Act of 2003 sets out the rules for commercial email. The Act establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and provides tough penalties for violations.

The CAN SPAM Act does not apply just to bulk email. The Act covers all commercial messages. The law defines these as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.” This includes 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.


Marketing compliance


If you are a UK-based company marketing into the USA, you'll need to ensure you comply with the CAN SPAM Act. US-based email marketing platforms such as MailChimp and AWeber will also help you to comply with the law if you are using them.
Each separate email in violation of the CAN SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000. Non-compliance can therefore be costly.

However, the CAN SPAM law is not complicated to understand. We've outlined the main requirements you should follow below.


CAN SPAM Act


Main Requirements


  • 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.
  • Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
  • Identify the message as an advertisement. 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.
  • 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 have registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
  • 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. Creative use of type size, color, and location can improve clarity. Give a return email address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you. Make sure your spam filter does not block these opt-out requests.
  • Honour 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 honour 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 honouring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you have hired to help you comply with the CAN SPAM Act.
  • 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.

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