CAN-SPAM ACT & Marketing Relationship in Detail!

The Controlling the Assaults of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act, commonly known as CAN-SPAM ACT, the U.S anti-spam law, or even the spam act, was passed in 2003 in the United States of America(USA) by the Federal Trade Commission(FTC). The FTC is an agency of the U.S government that works towards passing “a variety of antitrust and consumer protection laws affecting virtually every area of commerce, with some exceptions concerning banks, insurance companies, non-profits, transportation, and communications common carriers, air carriers, and some other entities. The agency leverages its resources and targets its enforcement efforts at practices that cause the greatest harm to consumers.

This article aims to answer the following questions-

What is the CAN-SPAM ACT of 2003?

 The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) defines the CAN-SPAM ACT of 2003, as a set of guidelines that are to be followed by companies while sharing the commercial email with the consumers. This law also gives recipients the right to have companies stop emailing them. Furthermore, the CAN-SPAM ACT also specifies tough penalties in case of violation of the act.

According to the Bureau of Consumer Protection,  this law applies to all sorts commercial messages which the law defines as ‘any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,’ The CAN-SPAM ACT of 2003 is not only applicable for B2C(Business to Consumer) platforms but also for B2B(Business to Business) platforms. This means that it is applicable to any sort of promotional messages irrespective of the consumer, be it general public or even fellow businesses.

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According to the CAN-SPAM ACT, these emails can be classified into major categories-

Commercial mails

Are those emails that in bulk to all those, who opt for promotional content from their brand. For example- Mails received by Forever 21

Transactional or Relationship mails

Are the ones that are sent from the seller and the consumer every time a purchase taker place. For Example, mail received from amazon after the purchase of some books. Read all about what are transactional emails here.


All other mails such as offer letters, newsletters, etc come under this category.

The CAN-SPAM ACT also excludes all content shared by companies with their target audience over social media platforms, such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Read more about email marketing here.

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What are the provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act?

The CAN-SPAM ACT requires companies to stick to the following guidelines in order to ensure that they abide by the act.

  1. Avoid false or misleading information – All information in the mail including sender, receiver, domain name etc. must be 100% accurate. The source of the message, i.e., the name of the person or business (sender of the message) must also be clearly identified.
  2. Abstain from deceptive subject lines – This means that the subject of the mail must clearly be based on the content of the mail. It should be a brief summary of the entire mail in just about a few words.
  3. The message should be patented as an advertisement – Although businesses are given a distinct amount of leeway on how they could do this, it is imperative for companies to identify these messages as promotional or for the purpose of advertising. Read about how drip campaigns advertising can be used to retain your brand presence and ultimately increase your conversions. 
  4. Give recipients complete information of the company’s location – According to the FTC, companies must ensure to provide “valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox they have registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.”
  5. Provide recipients complete information on how to opt-out of receiving future emails from the company – This means that the message must contain a simple and clear explanation of how to opt-out of receiving emails in the future. The message must be framed such that it can easily be understood by anybody and making creative use of type size, colour, and location in a creative manner. Companies must also provide additional ways of opting out of receiving future emails. Additionally, they must also ensure that the spam filter does not block out the request to opt-out. 
  6. Request to opt-out must be honoured the promptly – Any request to opt-out must be processed almost immediately, at least within 30 days of having sent the mail and in 10 days. No fees must be charged by companies and they may also ask recipients for any personal information other than email ID. They may also send a mail or a single webpage in order to honour the request to opt-out of receiving any other mails from that company. It must also ensure that companies immediately honour the opting-out request, and do not forward the emails to another list.
  7. Monitor work of third parties on the company’s behalf – In case a company hires another company to handle their email marketing; both must comply with the law. If they go against the law, both, the company whose product is being marketed, as well as the company marketing the product, will be held responsible.

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How to comply with the CAN-SPAM ACT?

Although it is fairly simple to comply with the act, it is important to understand how companies can comply with the provisions of the law.

  • Honesty and Transparency – Since one of the main objectives of the law is to increase transparency between companies and consumers. This can be done by  following certain provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act, according to which, companies must have a clear and correct domain name, ensure all information is accurate and verified and most importantly ensure that the subject of the mail is not misleading and is accurately based on the contents of the mail
  • Mark as an advertisement – Companies must ensure that emails sent for the purpose of advertising must be clearly marked that that way to ensure there is no confusion and that the message is clear and not misleading.
  • Provide warning in case of explicit content – In 2004, a new law was added to the CAN-SPAM ACT of 2003. It was called-‘Label for Email Messages Containing Sexually Oriented Material’ or even the ‘Adult Labelling Rule’. According to this law, any messages sent, that includes explicit content should have, ‘SEXUALLY EXPLICIT’ content marked as the subject. It is imperatives to keep in mind that such content must only be shared with those customers that have given permission to share such sexually-geared content with them.
  • Include the companies’ email ID – This means if a company opts for email marketing, they must ensure that every message shared with the customers includes not only their email IDs but also the postal address of the company.
  • Permission to opt out – According to this, consumers have the right to opt-out of receiving messages from companies. It is imperative for companies to ensure that the procedure to be followed is clearly specified, simple to follow, charge no fees, and honoured immediately without any conflict. Furthermore, it must be honoured in 30 days after having sent the mails and be done within 10 days.
  • Accept the company’s responsibility – Even though a company’s product is being promoted by a third party, say, a marketing agency using different forms of promoting the product such as email marketing, it company, whose product is being promoted is still responsible for promotion against the CAN-SPAM ACT of 2003. If anything happens to go wrong, the company, as well as the third party, will be held responsible.

Read about how to send emails using the most secure email providers

What would non-compliance of the act lead to?

Not complying with the provisions of the CAN-SPAM ACT OF 2003 may prove to be very costly for the companies, as it could lead to a penalty that would be as high as $42,530 per mail violation. This means that a simple act of dishonesty causes a company to pay a hefty price for every single time they were dishonesty. In certain cases going against the act is also considered as a criminal offence and may result in some serious punishments such as jail sentence, etc. Read the act in detail here.


Although this act was passed in the United States of America, nearly seventeen years ago but is still very relevant as it contributes towards keeping the companies in check. Laws such as these play a very important role in consumer protection, as they ensure that their privacy is respected. They also ensure that in the profit-making process, consumer needs and choices are prioritized and maintained at all times.