The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003 was the first piece of legislation to govern the sending of commercial emails. At the time, many consumer advocates complained that the bill did not go far enough to prevent the sending of unwanted “spam” email.

The bill does not prevent businesses from sending unsolicited advertisements via email. Rather, it effectively sets the conditions that must be met in order for businesses to send spam email.

Noteworthy requirements of this bill include:

  • An easy-to-find unsubscribe option is present.
  • Opt out requests are completed within 10 days.
  • Emails can not be sent to addresses that are “harvested” (for example, by bots scraping Web pages).
  • Subject and From lines must be accurate.
  • Physical address of sender is present.

If emails meet these conditions (among others) they are not vulnerable to any legal penalties. However, as discussed more below, meeting the conditions of this act does not prevent sites from being identified as “spammers” by email providers such as Gmail, Yahoo!, or Hotmail.

Penalties under the CAN-SPAM act are relatively rare, but there have been a number of cases where six-figure fines have been levied in response to violations. The penalties for violations of this act can be significant; each violation can result in fines of up to $16,000.

Compliance with the CAN-SPAM act does not mean that sites will be protected from action taken by email providers and email service providers. Google’s Gmail, for example, identifies and automatically filters out spam messages by detecting

When recipients of an email mark a message as spam (or when an email provider filters out suspected spam), there is no notification to the government agency responsible for enforcing the CAN-SPAM laws.

In other words, emails that are sent in full compliance with CAN-SPAM laws are often marked as spam messages by email providers (such as Gmail) and by users. It is these spam complaints that can damage the reputation of a publisher with an email service provider (such as AWeber or MailChimp) and result in a suspension of email sending activities.

In order to avoid penalties from your email provider (which can prevent you from sending any emails to your subscribers), you’ll need to do much more than simply comply with the conditions of this law. Some resources for avoiding spam detectors of email providers are included in the resources below.