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The CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) Act, passed in 2003, established national standards for sending commercial e-mails and provided enforcement jurisdiction to the Federal Trade Commission.  The act does not apply to just bulk e-mails but to all e-mail messages.  The bill also exempts “transactional or relationship messages” and permits e-mail marketers to send unsolicited e-mails as long as they adhere to 3 basics types of compliance. 

Unsubscribe compliance: A visible and operable unsubscribe mechanism is included in the e-mail that allows the receiver to opt-out of future e-mails. 

Content compliance:  The message contains accurate “from” lines, relevant subject lines, legitimate address of sender, and a label if content is adult.

Sending behavior:  Message cannot contain a harvested e-mail address, cannot be sent through an open relay, and cannot contain a false header.

The content is exempt if it consists of religious messages, political messages, national security messages, or content that broadly complies with the marketing mechanisms specific in the law.  There are no restrictions against a company emailing its existing customers or anyone who has inquired about its products or services, even if these individuals have not given permission, as these messages are classified as "relationship" messages under CAN-SPAM.

Complying with the Act is fairly straight forward and should be no issue for a legitimate business. 

1.       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.

2.       Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.

3.       Identify the message as an ad. 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.

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. 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.

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. 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 honoring 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. 

Additional information on the CAN-SPAM act can be found at the FTC (click to connect).

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