The Rules for Sending Emails in Spammy Times
CAN-SPAM (“Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act”) is a law that the U.S. Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law in 2003. The Act is meant to help guide creators of email marketing campaigns and newsletters to be honest and upfront with their unsolicited commercial email messages. Although this is an American law, several countries have very similar laws. For example, Canada’s is called CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation) and came into effect in 2014.
Offenses to the CAN-SPAM Act carry a penalty of $16,000 USD for each separate email that violates the Act. In addition, the Act authorizes state attorneys general and other agencies to bring claims for CAN-SPAM Act violations, with maximum damages amounts of $2,000,000. OK, now that I have your attention, let’s review the seven elements that keep you in compliance with the Act:
- Do not use false or misleading identity information.
You must be clear regarding who is sending the email. Your email’s “From”, “To”, “Reply-To” fields and routing information (including the originating domain name and email address) must be accurate, and identify the person or the company that sends the message.
- Do not use a deceptive subject for your email messages.
You need to ensure that the subject line accurately reflects the content of your email message. (In other words, don’t make extravagant claims in the subject that encourage people to open the email but aren’t carried forward in the content.)
- Identify the message as an advertisement if it is one.
Initiators of a commercial email message must provide clear identification that the message is an advertisement or solicitation. Many newsletters that authors send out are essentially advertisements but authors see themselves as sharing information about their events and/or an upcoming new release. Ultimately the goal is to stimulate readers to buy books. And that’s fine. What you can’t do is invite people to a free seminar or workshop and then charge them at the door. Just be clear about what your message is offering and whether the email is an advertisement or solicitation.
- Recipients must be given a physical postal address.
Being female, I have some concerns about this point. I don’t want a stalker showing up on my doorstep! My solution? A P.O. Box. That’s acceptable under the Act.
- Include a clear option to opt-out of receiving future emails from you.
An email message must clearly explain that the recipient may opt-out of receiving further commercial messages from the sender. The best way to deal with this element is to use a mailing list management service such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, aWeber, or any of the others that are designed to maintain a mailing list and manage your emails. All of your emails and newsletters sent through a service should make it easy to unsubscribe. The opt-out mechanism must be functional for at least 30 days after the message is sent.
- Honor opt-out requests promptly.
An opt-out request MUST become effective within 10 business days of receiving the request. Here again, a mailing list management service will take care of opt-outs instantly through their software. A newsletter service is much faster–the name is removed once the link is clicked.
In addition, you can’t charge a fee to remove a name from a list or require that a recipient provide any information other than the recipient’s email address and opt-out preferences. Further, once a name is removed from one list, you can’t add it to another list or sell it. Finally, an opt-out request does not expire and is overridden only by the recipient’s subsequent express request to once again receive commercial emails.
- Monitor what others are doing on your behalf.
If you hire someone to send out newsletters on your behalf, you are still legally responsible for their actions – so pay attention!
Do they HAVE to Opt in?
A number of misconceptions about the CAN-SPAM Act are floating about the Web. For example, you’ll find articles stating that you can’t add anyone to a list without their permission. While the Act does not explicitly prohibit such an activity, it is generally not a good business practice. If you add people to your list without their permission, you’re likely to receive irate responses from folks who will NEVER buy any of your books.
In the two weeks prior to writing this post, I was added to SIX new lists, and one of the list owners sent me FOUR newsletters in one day! Even if I were interested in receiving his emails, the FOUR missives a day clogging my inbox were deal killers. I unsubscribed and never want to hear from that person again.
Beyond generating bad will, if you use a mailing list service and add names of people who haven’t opted in, you run the risk of having your account suspended or shut down if your first mailing has a higher than normal percentage of bounces, opt-outs, or complaints.
Here’s a simple approach to sending out solicited emails. Never forget that it’s a privilege to be granted access to someone’s inbox. Take that honor seriously.
Barbara Drozdowich is a Mailing List Specialist
Reviewed by Christopher Rooney, Esq., an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law for creatives and small businesses (www.rooneylegal.com)