Email Reminders

CAN-SPAM FAQ: 8 Answers to Most Common Questions

The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing law, known as CAN-SPAM, sets rules for commercial emails. Any business using email to communicate with customers needs to understand the CAN-SPAM Act. While it seems pretty straightforward, some aspects are a bit confusing. To help you avoid penalties, we’ve created a CAN-SPAM FAQ that answers 8 of the most frequently asked CAN-SPAM questions.


1. What does CAN-SPAM cover?

Emails that are commercial in nature — meaning they can result in the sale of a product or service — are covered by CAN-SPAM and must follow the rules. On the other hand, emails that are informational, transactional or relationship-oriented are exempt from CAN-SPAM. Examples are appointment reminder emails and requests for feedback.

If a message mixes commercial content with informational content, the primary purpose of the message prevails. This is usually determined by the subject and first few lines of the email.

2. How do I Comply With CAN-SPAM?

Step 1: Don’t use false or misleading header information.

Step 2: Don’t use deceptive subject lines.

Step 3: Identify your message as an advertisement.

Step 4: List a valid postal address in every email.

Step 5: Have clear and obvious opt-out information.

Step 6: Honor opt-out requests promptly.

Step 7: Check what vendors are sending on your behalf.

3. Does CAN-SPAM apply even if my recipients opted in?

Yes. While you’re exempted from identifying your message as an ad or solicitation, you still have to comply with other CAN-SPAM requirements. These would include an accurate header and subject information, a valid physical address, and an unsubscribe option. You are also required to honor opt-out requests on time.

4. Can I send commercial emails to people who have not opted in?

Yes. The CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t have an opt-in requirement. But, you must include an opt-out or unsubscribe mechanism. You must also fulfill all other CAN-SPAM requirements.

That said, buying mailing lists is very risky. Some of the people on such lists might have previously opted out of receiving your emails.  Some mailing lists are collected illegally. So the safest option is to build an organic mailing list via your website and social media accounts.

5. Are messages sent via social media also covered by the CAN-SPAM Act?

Some federal courts have included messages transmitted via social networking sites. It’s best to check the terms and conditions of a social media platform to know what the limitations are.

Online groups are generally covered by CAN-SPAM. While most messages sent in these groups are either transactional or relationship, emails that are commercial in nature should comply with the applicable provisions.

6. Does the CAN-SPAM Act cover mobile phone spam?

CAN-SPAM applies to messages transmitted to wireless devices. This includes those transmitted using Internet-to-phone SMS technology. Considering that most people use smartphones these days, such methods are pretty common. However, it doesn’t apply to messages sent via phone-to-phone SMS texts. Those have even stricter regulations under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

7. Who is responsible if the email is from more than one company?

On occasion, your business may be included in an email that promotes more than one business. In such instances, the designated sender of the email is the one who has a duty to comply with CAN-SPAM’s requirements. The sender is identified in the ‘from’ line of the message. Should the designated sender not fulfill the requirements, all marketers included in the email may be held accountable as senders.

8. What are the penalties for violating the CAN-SPAM Act?

For every email you send in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act, the Federal Trade Commission can fine you up to $16,000. As the marketer of your business, it’s crucial to know the basics of the CAN-SPAM Act. This knowledge will help you evaluate the law’s impacts on your business and your relationship with clients. If you find that you’re violating some of CAN-SPAM’s requirements in your correspondence, make it CAN-SPAM-compliant as soon as possible.

Need More CAN-SPAM Information?

Please read the FTC’s CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business. And if you’re in Canada, check out: What you, yes YOU, Need to Know About the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation.

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