Thinking of sending commercial email? Check the law before you click “send”. If your email turns out to be spam, you can face significant risks and penalties.

By sending unwanted commercial email, you may annoy potential customers, losing sales and relationship opportunities. Email providers, such as Telus, Shaw or Yahoo may add you to their junk mail filters, preventing even your legitimate emails from reaching their destinations. Your ISP and web host may shut down your email and web hosting, causing you embarassment, lost responses from interested customers, and an administrative headache. Under US CAN-SPAM regulations, you could be fined or jailed. And, if you send deceptive email, you could be charged under laws that ban false and misleading advertising.

Don’t assume that your email recipients are just individuals. If a lawyer puts together a class action suit, your individual email recipients may represent a major court challenge.

Under CAN-SPAM, you must follow these rules:

  • Use accurate header information that includes the originating domain name, email address and the person who sent the email.
  • Stick to truthful subject lines. You may not mislead the recipient about the contents or subject of the message.
  • Allow recipients to opt-out. You must provide a return email address or Internet-based response form that lets the recipient tell you not to send messages to them at that address. You must honour their request. You can give recipients a menu of choices, in case they wish to continue receiving some messages, but you must allow them to end all commercial messages.
  • Process opt-outs within 10 days. You must also be able to process opt-out requests for a 30-day period after you sent the commercial email.
  • End all commercial email. You may not help other entities send email to that address or have other parties send email on your behalf. You may not sell or transfer email addresses of people who have opted out — unless you’re doing it to help another party make sure they do not send email to people who have opted out. For example, if you teamed with Microsoft to do a joint promotion, you could give Microsoft your list of opted-out addresses, so that they can be purged from the mailing.
  • Identify your commercial email as an advertisement.
  • Include your valid physical postal address.

    Follow those rules, and you’re essentially free to send commercial email. But violate those rules and you could find yourself in big trouble. And, if you think you’re safe in Canada, don’t be so sure. Can you be certain that your messages do not find their way to a US-based ISP or recipient? Moreover, Canada’s PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) could be interpreted to apply to commercial email. Canada is working on anti-spam laws, but PIPEDA could cause your company a headache in the meantime.

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    (c) 2004 by Andrea Coutu. Vancouver Marketing Consultant. All rights reserved.