The CAN-SPAM Act: How to Stay Compliant in 2023

The CAN-SPAM Act: How to Stay Compliant in 2024 (Update)

The CAN-SPAM Act: How to Stay Compliant in 2023
The CAN-SPAM Act: How to Stay Compliant in 2023


If you’re a business owner, marketer, or director, you might have heard about the CAN-SPAM Act and all its rules and considerations. This article breaks down everything you need to know about this law and how it affects all electronic mail message communications and commercial messages.

So, in this complete guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about the CAN-SPAM Act. We’ll look at who the CAN-SPAM Act applies to, how you can stay compliant, and more. Let’s dive in.

Key Takeaways (TL;DR)

  1. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 sets commercial email guidelines, including an explicit opt-out mechanism prohibiting misleading subject lines or header information to protect recipients from unsolicited emails.

  2. Violating the CAN-SPAM Act can result in fines of up to $43,280 per email, legal repercussions, and damage to your brand’s reputation.

  3. Adherence to CAN-SPAM avoids legal issues, supports reputation management, and enhances email deliverability and other benefits.

  4. Staying compliant involves using honest subject lines and identifying messages as advertisements, among other outlined best practices below.

  5. Google and Yahoo are implementing stricter measures to minimize spam, including authentication requirements for bulk senders and blocking emails from organizations exceeding a 0.3% abuse complaint rate.

What is CAN-SPAM?

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (short for The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act) is one of the most important anti-spam laws today. The American statute establishes commercial advertisement and promotional messaging guidelines to protect recipients and the general public. It also states that commercial emails must provide recipients with a precise mechanism to process opt-out requests so that users stop receiving further emails.

This act also states you cannot include misleading subject lines or inaccurate information in the header fields. Deceptive or false content or sender information are likewise forbidden by law, as is sending emails to addresses obtained inadvertently.

Did You Know Bad Email Management Can Be Costly?

Email marketing is a popular way for companies to engage with both present and potential clients in the digital age. The CAN-SPAM Act, however, has such a set of guidelines that must be respected when it comes to email marketing.

Your brand may be subject to fines and penalties totaling up to $43,280 for each email sent if found to be in violation. Moreover, ignoring CAN-SPAM compliance undermines your brand’s reputation and image and leaves it unprotected. 

Unsurprisingly, we have seen an increase in sales and marketing teams receiving fines for non-compliance. That’s why we will be delving into every aspect of the CAN-SPAM Act so you can comprehend this complex environment and what it means to be 100 percent compliant in 2023.

Why CAN-SPAM Matters

Macbook pro on black textile
Macbook pro on black textile

Compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act matters, that’s a fact. It’s a practice that fosters trust and integrity in your digital communications while also keeping your business out of trouble.

If you’re still not convinced, these reasons why CAN-SPAM Act compliance matters should do the trick. Here are five reasons why adhering to CAN-SPAM law matters:

1) Avoidance of Legal Penalties

CAN-SPAM compliance is crucial for email marketers and senders to stay out of legal trouble and keep their receivers’ trust. The CAN-SPAM Act applies to any commercial email that promotes or advertises a commercial product or service.

Violators can also look forward to fines of up to $43,280 per email that violates CAN-SPAM rules. By ensuring compliance, businesses protect themselves from potential fines and legal actions. This involves clearly identifying the message as an advertisement, providing a valid physical postal address, and making sure the subject line accurately reflects the content of the email.

2) Reputation Management

The sender’s reputation and email deliverability may suffer due to non-compliance. Though that should be the least of CAN-SPAM violators’ concerns, it’s still something you want to keep in mind. Sending emails that don’t comply with this statute can lead to a negative perception among consumers.

We highly recommend that you comply with CAN-SPAM best practices like honoring the recipients’ right to opt-out and making the originating domain name visible and accurate. Doing so demonstrates respect for consumer preferences, which can improve your brand image and customer loyalty.

3) Enhancing Deliverability

When your marketing messages comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, you’re more likely to maintain high email deliverability rates. ISPs and email services often use compliance with these regulations as one of the factors to determine whether an email should be delivered to the inbox or marked as spam.

Properly identifying transactional or relationship content versus marketing act messages ensures that important communications reach the recipient. Some practices that will help include not harvesting email addresses.

4) Ensuring Compatibility with State Anti-Spam Laws

Besides the federal CAN-SPAM Act, there are many states have their own anti-spam laws with requirements that may be more stringent. Compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act does not exempt businesses from adhering to state laws. Complying with the broadest set of regulations helps you keep state laws, which will help save you both unnecessary expenses and headache.

5) Building Trust with Business Partners

Compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act is also a prerequisite in business-to-business email communications. Adhering to these regulations and adding a clear opt-out request can demonstrate your commitment to ethical practices. You’ll need that perception to maintain your trust with partners, suppliers, and clients who value legal compliance and ethical behavior in their associates.

Compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act and understanding its application is essential. It not only helps in avoiding legal penalties but also plays a significant role in building a reputable and trustworthy brand that values its customers’ preferences and legal standards.

How to Stay Compliant

Person using smartphone and laptop computer
Person using smartphone and laptop computer

Navigating the complexities of the CAN-SPAM Act requires not only an understanding of its foundational requirements but also a commitment to ethical email marketing practices. Here are expanded tips for staying compliant and ensuring your email marketing respects both the letter and the spirit of the law:

1) Use Honest Subject Lines

Use email subject lines that truthfully reflect its content to avoid misleading header information. On top of aligning with CAN-SPAM requirements, it should also build more trust with your audience. In your subject line, make the primary purpose of your email clear.

2) Identify Your Message as an Advertisement

Distinguishing between commercial content and transactional or relationship content is essential. For emails that blend both types, the primary purpose rule guides how to comply with CAN-SPAM regulations, ensuring that your message adheres to the necessary standards for its predominant content type.

Recipients should be able to distinguish between transactional or relationship content and marketing messages. If your email includes promotional material or is aimed at selling a commercial product, clearly state that it is an advertisement. This clarification helps in setting the right expectations. It also maintains the integrity of your marketing.

3) Provide a Simple CAN-SPAM Unsubscribe Option

Every email should offer recipients an easy way to opt out of future messages, ensuring respect for their preferences. This best practice also prevents your emails from being considered as spam emails or unsolicited commercial email.

4) Respect Opt-Out Requests Promptly

When a recipient decides to unsubscribe, honoring this request within ten business days is not just a legal requirement—it’s a testament to your respect for consumer rights. Quick compliance with opt-out requests reduces the likelihood of your emails being reported as spam.

5) Include Your Physical Address

Add a valid physical postal address to your emails. Doing so will verify your legitimacy. This detail assures recipients about the authenticity of the originating domain and the seriousness of your business operations.

6) Use Third-Party Email Lists with Caution

If you’re using any third-party email lists, only include email recipients who have agreed to receive marketing messages from entities like yours. You should comply without wavering to avoid the risk of sending unsolicited commercial email. Adherence will also guard you and your business against accusations of harvesting email addresses.

7) Compliance with State Anti-Spam Laws

Besides federal regulations, be aware of and comply with state anti-spam laws, which may have additional requirements or provisions beyond those of the CAN-SPAM Act. Consider this crucial if your business operates in multiple jurisdictions.

8) Use an Accurate Originating Domain Name and Address

Accuracy in your email’s technical details (i.e. the originating domain and physical address) reinforces trust and compliance. Having that level of accuracy helps you establish a clear line of communication between you and your recipients. As a result, you facilitate better engagement and compliance with commercial websites’ standards.

CAN-SPAM regulations are undoubtedly complex. While some might choose to sweep it under the rug, the risk of violating these can result in hefty fines and damage to your brand’s reputation.

Imagine the stress and financial burden of facing legal actions because of an oversight in following CAN-SPAM compliance standards. Every email campaign you send out could potentially expose your business to legal scrutiny, distracting you from focusing on growth and customer engagement.

This is where UnsubCentral comes into play. Our CAN-SPAM compliance solution meticulously ensures that every aspect of your email marketing campaigns adheres to legal standards, safeguarding you against any potential breaches. Entrusting your email compliance to UnsubCentral lets you confidently focus on what you do best—building relationships with your customers—while we handle the complexities of compliance for you.

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Anti-Spam Law Updates for 2024

Google and Yahoo have enhanced their security to minimize spam for their users through significant defence upgrades. The two email provider giants are using AI to better identify and filter out spam emails.

Key changes include requiring bulk senders to authenticate their emails. Anyone dispatching 5,000 or more commercial emails per day is considered a bulk sender. These measures will eventually be adopted by other smaller email service providers.

Emails that fall under bulk-sending email counts include:

  • Emails with marketing communications

  • Automatic messages

  • Operational emails.

Non-compliance with these rules will lead to severe consequences. Starting February 1st, 2024, Google has started to block all emails from organizations that exceed a 0.3% abuse complaint rate. They will only lift blocks after resolving the issues and contacting Gmail Help for assistance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of messages does the CAN-SPAM Act apply to?

The CAN-SPAM Act applies to commercial electronic mail messages. That includes emails and promotions on commercial websites. The law also applies to some text messages sent to wireless devices.

All commercial messages should comply with CAN-SPAM Act rules, regardless of whether they are directed to consumers or businesses.

What happens when I don’t comply with the CAN-SPAM Act?

Non-compliance can lead to certain penalties and blocks. Check out this blog to learn more about CAN-SPAM penalties.

How does the CAN-SPAM Act compare with the European Union’s ePrivacy Directive?

The CAN-SPAM Act and the European Union’s ePrivacy Directive differ in their approach to email. CAN-SPAM Act focuses on the impact of unsolicited emails. It’s opt-out driven, meaning commercial mailings are allowed until the recipient says they no longer want them.

The ePrivacy Directive protects the privacy and personal data of individuals when using communications services. It also “bans” spam and spyware. The ePrivacy Directive specifies that people must opt-in to receive emails.

How can recipients report CAN-SPAM violations?

There are a few ways the FTC lets recipients report CAN-SPAM violations. These are the easiest ways.

  • Report at www.ftc.gov/complaint.

  • Forward the email to [email protected] to help the FTC collect evidence.

  • Forward the email to your email provider, like Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo, or to the sender’s email provider. Most email services have buttons to mark messages as junk mail or report spam.

  • Mark the message as spam.

What if my message combines commercial content and transactional or relationship content?

According to the CAN-SPAM Act, a message that contains both commercial and transactional or relationships will still be considered commercial if:

  • The subject line leads the recipient to think it’s a commercial message

  • The bulk of the transactional or relationship part of the message doesn’t appear at the beginning 

The primary purpose of the message is the deciding factor.

Key Takeaways

To avoid fines and maintain the trust of their recipients, email marketers and senders must adhere to CAN-SPAM in 2023. You can ensure that you’re not breaking the law and that your recipients continue to have faith in you by adhering to the CAN-SPAM rules described in this blog post.

Always provide a simple CAN-SPAM unsubscribe option, label your message as advertising if appropriate, and immediately honor opt-out requests. UnsubCentral can significantly expedite this compliance procedure and ensure all criteria are satisfied by serving as a CAN-SPAM compliance solution for your business.

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