Anti-Spam Law for Small Businesses

September 21, 2015 | Charles Bowen

There’s no denying the fact that marketers are a clever bunch. If there is a way to get a message to the masses, they will find it. When the internet exploded and evolved into part of our everyday lives, marketers were right there to capitalize. As more and more people began using email as a primary means of communication, email marketing started in earnest, and along with it, the electronic version of junk mail that we all know as SPAM.

For a number of years, there was no escaping the daily deluge of SPAM messages in our inboxes. Unscrupulous marketers would purchase and share email addresses to send marketing emails about everything under the sun, all unsolicited and uninvited. It didn’t take long for SPAM filters to show up as part of email programs, and eventually the government got involved and passed laws to govern SPAM and impose penalties to those caught sending unsolicited commercial emails.

These “commercial messages” pertain to small businesses too, so don’t think you’re free and clear just because you’re not a big corporation. Here is a quick breakdown of the laws, and what you need to do to help your small business avoid any penalties.

CAN-SPAM Act

The CAN-SPAM Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003.  Thus, even if you didn’t know it, your small business email marketing has been under its influence for more than a decade. The law sets specific rules regarding commercial emails, which are defined as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.”

This includes emails that promote content on commercial websites, including B2B email messages. Here are some of the main requirements to you must follow to ensure that your small business is complying with the law:

  • Message must be identified as an ad
  • Cannot use deceptive subject lines or false header info
  • You must give recipients a way to opt-out, and tell them how to do it
  • You must honor the opt-out request within 10 business days
  • You must inform the recipients where you are located
  • Make sure email marketers acting on your behalf comply with the law

For each violation of the CAN-SPAM Act--and that means every separate email you’ve sent--you are subject to fines up to $16,000.00.  Needless to say, for a small business, non-compliance can be the end of the road, especially if you’ve been sending bulk emails. Details about the CAN-SPAM Act and how it affects your small business can be found on the FTC website here.

Marketing to Canada?

Canada has created its own version of the CAN-SPAM Act that came into effect in July of 2014. The Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation or CASL, differs from CAN-SPAM in one key area, which is the type of consent that’s required. CAN-SPAM is based on an opt-out model, where consent is implied unless the recipient opts out. With CASL, an opt-in model is in place, whereby consent must be given before a commercial electronic message (CEM) is sent. There are exemptions, such as having an existing business relationship, but for the most part the rules and penalties are far more stringent. The Canadian laws also apply to electronic messages beyond just emails, including texts, sound, voice or image messages.

For more information on the differences between CAN-SPAM and CASL, you can look here and find out if the Canadian rules apply to your business. There’s no question that email and other electronic messages are a great way to help your small business grow, but ending up on the wrong side of one of these violations could have devastating effects, so stay informed and be careful. 

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Topics: Georgia Law for Small Businesses and Startups