Pinkham Communications

Can-Spam Act

for BusinessFTC FACTS

Requirements for Commercial Emailers

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (Controlling the Assault of Non-

Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act) establishes requirements
for those who send commercial email, spells out penalties
for spammers and companies whose products are advertised in spam if they
violate the law, and gives consumers the right to ask emailers to stop
spamming them.

The law, which became effective January 1, 2004, covers email whose primary
purpose is advertising or promoting a commercial product or service, including
content on a Web site. A “transactional or relationship message” — email that
facilitates an agreed-upon transaction or updates a customer in an existing business relationship — may not contain false or misleading routing information, but
otherwise is exempt from most provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act.

Facts for Business
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the
nation’s consumer protection agency, is authorized to enforce the CAN-SPAM Act. CANSPAM also gives the Department of Justice
(DOJ) the authority to enforce its criminal
sanctions. Other federal and state agencies can
enforce the law against organizations under
their jurisdiction, and companies that provide
Internet access may sue violators, as well.

What the Law Requires

 Here’s a rundown of the law’s main

• It bans false or misleading header information. Your email’s “From,” “To,” and
routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must
be accurate and identify the person who
initiated the email.
• It prohibits deceptive subject lines. The
subject line cannot mislead the recipient
about the contents or subject matter of the
• It requires that your email give recipients
an opt-out method. You must provide a
return email address or another Internet-
based response mechanism that allows a
recipient to ask you not to send future email
messages to that email address, and you must
honor the requests. You may create a
“menu” of choices to allow a recipient to opt
out of certain types of messages, but you
must include the option to end any commercial messages from the sender.
Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be
able to process opt-out requests for at least
30 days after you send your commercial
email. When you receive an opt-out request,
the law gives you 10 business days to stop
sending email to the requestor’s email
address. You cannot help another entity send
email to that address, or have another entity

send email on your behalf to that address.
Finally, it’s illegal for you to sell or transfer
the email addresses of people who choose
not to receive your email, even in the form of
a mailing list, unless you transfer the addresses so another entity can comply with the

• It requires that commercial email be
identified as an advertisement and include
the sender’s valid physical postal address.
Your message must contain clear and conspicuous notice that the message is an
advertisement or solicitation and that the
recipient can opt out of receiving more
commercial email from you. It also must
include your valid physical postal address.


Each violation of the above provisions is
subject to fines of up to $11,000. Deceptive
commercial email also is subject to laws banning false or misleading advertising.

Additional fines are provided for commercial emailers who not only violate the rules
described above, but also:

• “harvest” email addresses from Web sites or
Web services that have published a notice
prohibiting the transfer of email addresses
for the purpose of sending email
• generate email addresses using a “dictionary
attack” — combining names, letters, or
numbers into multiple permutations
• use scripts or other automated ways to
register for multiple email or user accounts
to send commercial email
• relay emails through a computer or network
without permission — for example, by
taking advantage of open relays or open
proxies without authorization.

Facts for Business
The law allows the DOJ to seek criminal

penalties, including imprisonment, for

commercial emailers who do — or

conspire to:
• use another computer without authorization
and send commercial email from or
through it
• use a computer to relay or retransmit multiple commercial email messages to deceive
or mislead recipients or an Internet access
service about the origin of the message
• falsify header information in multiple email
messages and initiate the transmission of
such messages
• register for multiple email accounts or
domain names using information that falsifies the identity of the actual registrant
• falsely represent themselves as owners of
multiple Internet Protocol addresses that are
used to send commercial email messages.
Additional Rules

The FTC will issue additional rules under
the CAN-SPAM Act involving the required
labeling of sexually explicit commercial email
and the criteria for determining “the primary
purpose” of a commercial email. Look for the
rule covering the labeling of sexually explicit
material in April 2004; “the primary purpose”
rulemaking will be complete by the end of
2004. The Act also instructs the FTC to report
to Congress in summer 2004 on a National Do
Not E-Mail Registry, and issue reports in the
next two years on the labeling of all commercial email, the creation of a “bounty system” to
promote enforcement of the law, and the

effectiveness and enforcement of the CANSPAM Act.

See the FTC Web site at www.ftc.gov/spam
for updates on implementation of the CANSPAM Act.

The FTC maintains a consumer complaint
database of violations of the laws that the FTC
enforces. Consumers can submit complaints
online at www.ftc.gov and forward unwanted
commercial email to the FTC at spam@uce.gov.

Your Opportunity to Comment

The National Small Business Ombudsman
and 10 Regional Fairness Boards collect comments from small businesses about federal
compliance and enforcement activities. Each
year, the Ombudsman evaluates the conduct of
these activities and rates each agency’s responsiveness to small businesses. Small businesses
can comment to the Ombudsman without fear
of reprisal. To comment, call toll-free
1-888-REG-FAIR (1-888-734-3247) or go to

For More Information

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent
fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business
practices in the marketplace and to provide
information to help consumers spot, stop, and
avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free
information on consumer issues, visit
www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTCHELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-6534261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing,
identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online
database available to hundreds of civil and
criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S.
and abroad.

Facts for Business
Federal Trade Commission
For The Consumer
Federal Trade Commission

Bureau of Consumer Protection
Office of Consumer and Business Education

April 2004


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