United States: Electronic Marketing's Internet Twist: Use E-Mail, Not Faxes Or Texts

The name of the CAN-SPAM Act scares some people. They think it severely regulates, or maybe even prohibits, e-mail marketing. In a somewhat surprising twist of Internet law, however, e-mail marketing is less heavily regulated than several other methods of electronic marketing.

First, let's dispel the threat from the CAN-SPAM title (long version: Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003). Although the title suggests an intent to restrict e-mail marketing, the marketing industry actually advocated for the bill, to create a uniform federal standard in lieu of more restrictive California rules that would have otherwise set the de facto national standard.

For years before CAN-SPAM, states experimented with a variety of restrictions on e-mail marketing, including requirements for certain subject headings (for example, beginning with the abbreviation "ADV"), and stringent opt-in or opt-out requirements. All those state laws became inapplicable when CAN-SPAM took effect on January 1, 2004.

The CAN-SPAM Act is fairly friendly to commercial users. Technically, it only regulates commercial e-mails – e-mails designed to promote a commercial product or service. Mere informational e-mails aren't covered. Nor are transactional and relationship e-mails, such as e-mails to confirm purchases, or notifications about recalls, upgrades and account information.

As to covered commercial e-mails, the act presumptively permits them so long as they meet certain minimum requirements:

  • The header must not be false or misleading;
  • The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message;
  • The message must be identified as an advertisement (usually in a footer);
  • The sender's physical address must be included; and
  • Specific requirements for disclosing, allowing and implementing opt-outs must be followed.

Essentially, CAN-SPAM sets up an opt-out system for e-mails. You can send the first one, but the recipient can opt out of receiving further e-mails. (By contrast, the Canadian e-mail law, known as CASL, follows an opt-in system.) Obviously, in the U.S. opt-out system, commercial e-mail senders need to comply with opt-out requests. That usually means maintaining company-wide opt-out lists, and scrubbing all e-mail-send lists against those opt-outs.

Most marketers follow the CAN-SPAM rules (including the statutory opt-out notice) for all their e-mails, including informational e-mails, because of the narrow view that some regulators and courts take of informational e-mails. Some courts and regulators unfairly brand every communication made with a commercial purpose as "advertising" and thus non-informational.

Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission construes the act's opt-out requirement quite broadly, insisting that opt-out notices and procedures need to be provided even for solicited communications. That position is currently being challenged, but prudent mass e-mailers generally include fully compliant opt-out notices and procedures for all of their commercial e-mails.

Of course, even these mild requirements for e-mail ads go beyond the requirements on postal mail, which, for example, does not have to be marked as an advertisement, and doesn't have to include any opt-out notices or methods. So in this sense CAN-SPAM is indeed the Internet law twist relating to marketing mail.

Faxes and text messages

But the real twist is that other electronic methods of delivery are regulated even more heavily. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which prohibits unsolicited fax messaging advertisements, is full of pitfalls, dangers, and liability risks.

The TCPA originated in the days when fax machines and special fax paper were expensive, and it seemed improper for someone to send an unsolicited and unwanted advertisement by fax. So the law essentially prohibits the sending of unsolicited advertisements by fax, and severely penalizes violations. (Informational and transactional faxes aren't covered.)

While the act exempts faxes to a party with whom the sender has an "established business relationship" (EBR), that exemption is narrower than the words suggest. Among other things, to have a valid EBR, at least with respect to relationships that began after July 2005, you had to obtain the fax numbers you used from direct past voluntary dealings with the recipients.

The penalties and enforcement methods of the TCPA are the real problem for marketers. Each improper fax, to each recipient, carries a minimum $500 civil penalty. And the TCPA is enforceable by private attorneys, who usually bring their claims as class actions. A single mistaken fax to thousands of recipients can lead to millions in liability. (CAN-SPAM, by contrast, is only enforced by federal and state agencies, and the maximum penalty per e-mail campaign is $16,000.)

For these reasons, most marketers avoid faxes these days, except for those situations where they can prove that the faxes concern active transactions (like purchase confirmations), or where they can clearly prove an EBR.

Fax advertisements, however, aren't the end of the TCPA's hazards for marketers. Because of the definitions of faxes and telephone calls in the TCPA (which also regulated telemarketing), advertising text messages — which didn't even exist when the act was passed in 1991— are also covered. That means that advertising text messages could be subject to the same draconian penalties of $500 per message as fax advertisements, at least if they are sent through an automatic telephone dialing system, or without prior written opt-in consent. 

Marketers who move from postal mail to new methods of delivery need to take careful note of these laws. There's good reason why most electronic marketing uses e-mail, not faxes or text messages.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions