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Compliance with CAN-SPAM

In January of 2004, the US Congress passed the CAN-SPAM law. Frought with controversy, this legislation is just a first step to gaining control of the widespread abuse of the email system. Other technical improvements, such as the Sender Policy Framework, may also help combat the spam problem.

In any case, CAN-SPAM is now law. This is not a legal site, and for legal advice regarding compliance with that law, you need to speak with a lawyer. Personal, hand-typed emails to individual email addresses are not covered by the CAN-SPAM law. But there are some minimal steps you need to do when sending any kind of automatic email to your customers.

Mail Elements - Name and Address

Put your legal business name and address in your email. That's a requirement. You should also put your phone number in there too. If you are wary of putting your phone number in the email, chances are you shouldn't be sending the email in the first place!

Mail Subject Line - Undeceptive

Use a subject line which clearly, accurately, and undeceptively identifies the content or purpose of the email. A deceptive subject line, such as "Account Details Updated" for a mortgage ad, are illegal.

Mail Headers - From address

Do not forge the from-address or reply-to address of your email address. The address you use must be one at which you or someone relevant to your company can actually receive email. If it is a do-not-reply address documenting a transaction, then at least put the correct domain name for your company on the end of that email address.

List Management - Clear unsubscribe defined

Provide a clean and easy-to-understand way for your recipients to manage their email preferences. Mach5 Subscriber list management is a great tool for that.

List Management - Address sources

One of the most controversial elements of CAN-SPAM is that it allows swashbuckling marketeers to send email on an opt-out basis. There's no opt-in required to be compliant with the law. Fortunately at least, the act made sending mass email to an email address harvested from a website illegal.

Our recommendation is to send email only to your own customers and your own subscribers, and confirm and document their intent to receive email from you. Do that and you'll have virtually no complaints!

Does this mean that you can't go around to people's websites, hand-collect some addresses of specific businesses you may want to work with, and send them a "personalized" and apparently hand-generated email in order to establish a business-to-business relationship? I don't know. You'll need to consult a lawyer for that one.


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