See all Insights

Strategy Sessions: Understanding Anti-Spam Laws CAN-SPAM and CASL

In this installment of Strategy Sessions, Adam and I dig into the specifics of two important anti-spam laws: the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which regulates email marketing in the United States, and the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL), Canada’s most recent anti-spam legislation.


Lauren: Hi there. Welcome to another installment of Strategy Sessions. I’m Lauren McGaha.

Adam: I’m Adam Rightor. Today we wanted to talk about two laws: the CAN-SPAM Act, which is the U.S. anti-spam legislation passed back in 2003, as well as CASL, Canadian Anti-Spam Law, which was just enacted in July 2014.

Lauren: It’s important to understand the fundamentals of both of these laws, because in all likelihood, the majority of the recipients of your commercial email are going to be in the United States or Canada. We wanted to take some time today to dig into the core components of each of these laws. We’ll start with CAN-SPAM. A really important point to note when you are sending promotional email to recipients in the United States is CAN-SPAM does not require users to explicitly opt-in to your email. However, it does require that there be a way for users to opt-out if they no longer want to receive communications from you. A big point is just making sure that you have a legitimate opt-out link, either in the footer of the email or in your email signature. Somewhere that is easy for the user to find, and that functions accurately so that they will never receive mail from you if they choose to click that link.

Adam: The other piece is you have to have a physical address listed somewhere in the email as well.

Lauren: One more thing to keep in mind is the Reply To email address that’s associated with the message should be a valid email address, because users might try to reply to the email and request to be removed from the list. That’s also something that you’ll need to adhere to if somebody tries to opt-out manually that way.

Adam: Now, CASL, the Canadian version. If you’re in the United States right now, you’re probably wondering: Why does that even matter to me? I want to talk about what you have to have in place as well as why it matters. If you’re in the United States, you’re still sending to Canadians — there are Canadians on your list right now. You may not even know. That’s actually an issue, because essentially what the Canadian government is trying to do is crack down on true spammers out there. These talks are for legitimate businesses and our clients, and I would say they’re not coming for you, but at the same time you really need to be in compliance. The main difference is with CAN-SPAM you need to have an opt-out link; with the Canadian Anti-Spam Law, you need to allow people to expressly opt-in. There’s a couple ways they can do that. When they’re filling out a form on your site and it says, “Enter your email address and name to sign up for our blog digest,” and maybe there’s some information about what that actually means, the frequency and the types of information they get. That’s an example of an expressed opt-in. But if you, for example, had some other forms on your site, and you were ordinarily taking those names and putting them on your main mailing list, that’s not an opt-in. Let’s say they were signing up for a webinar and you were taking all those names and putting them on your blog digest mailing list — they’re not expressly opting-in. In fact, you really need to have a country field allowing people to choose their country. If they choose Canada, you can have a checkbox that allows them to expressly opt-in, or not.

Lauren: The important thing to keep in mind here is that you might need to change the fundamental way that you are gathering and populating your marketing list. You have a Contact Us form on your site, and somebody asks you a very specific, either technical or business-related question. That’s not technically an opt-in to your promotional email communications. If that user is from the United States, legally you’re fine, but if that user happens to be in Canada and you put them on your email list, now you’re in violation of CASL.

This has really affected the way we’re advising how our clients build calls-to-action on their sites, because you want to discern where these users are coming from as soon as possible if your strategy for populating your list is pulling in all of the names from anyone who submits any CTA on your site. What that looks like is, as Adam mentioned, getting to the heart of where they are. You should include the country field in any of your CTAs pretty early on in the form and ask where they are. If they choose Canada, provide an option for them to explicitly opt-in to future communications.

Adam: If having a country drop-down menu and having an opt-in check box doesn’t sound appealing to you, the other option is for those forms that aren’t express opt-ins themselves, to just not use those email addresses in your promo campaigns, which, as people who deal with marketing automation all the time, makes us sad.

Lauren: Don’t make us sad!

Adam: We would rather you build your list every way possible. We would rather you have some sort of opt-in. The other option is really to have that type of global opt-in on all your forms, no matter what country they’re in.

Lauren: One final note on this: Please keep this in mind when you go to purchase any kind of commercial list. We wrote about the do’s and don’ts of list purchasing. This becomes important when you are purchasing names through an email list provider, because you need to make sure that you simply exclude anyone who’s from Canada. Thanks for watching.

Related Posts