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The cover-to-cover guide on global spam law

Thinking about the range of global spam laws can be overwhelming. Lucky for you, we’ve done some extensive research, here are key points to keep in mind.

Hermes with mask dealing with spam



There was a story that my parents imprinted in my childhood memory. I had an uncle that grew up in a small, secluded village in China. He saved up for most of his life and in his later teens, he was ready to move out to a bigger city on his own. But before doing so, he taught himself English by reading the dictionary from cover to cover. I was blown away by his drive, after all that’s one dense piece of text! And to be able to retain all of that? To this day, I still wonder whether the legend is true.

Spam law draws similar feelings in most people. It’s a dry subject and thinking about the range of global legislation is overwhelming. Lucky for you though, we’ve done the reading for you. After some extensive research, we’ve pulled together the key points you need to know when emailing internationally.

It’s even more important than you might think...

Let’s say you’re a NYC based e-commerce business, if you offer international shipping you might have customers based in Europe. Legally speaking, you are responsible for complying with spam laws in the countries your customers live in.

If you aren’t doing so already, you’ll want to start collecting and organizing information on where your customers are based. This can be integrated into an opt-in form or by matching up email addresses to customer profiles on the back-end.

United States CAN-SPAM Act

The CAN-SPAM Act is a law that establishes rules for all commercial messages, not just email. True to its name, it protects consumers from spammers by giving recipients the power to stop you from emailing them. Senders who overlook this are heavily fined. Each individual email that violates the Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000. Non-compliance is quite costly, not to mention the damage it can do to your brand and sender reputation.


  • Include an active physical postal address in every email you send out.

  • Include a clear way to unsubscribe in each email and honor the opt-out within 10 business days.

  • If you hire a contractor or firm to create and send your email, you are still legally responsible for the content.

  • Stay away from sensational, deceptive subject lines. Your message should deliver something very close to what you promise in the subject line.

  • Don’t use email lists bought or rented from third-party companies.

Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL)

The new kid on the block, one that’s been in the news of late. The CASL is an amendment of the old spam act. It’s very similar to the CAN-SPAM act, in which the sender must receive consent from the recipient. This can be either implied consent, where there is an existing business relationship between you and the customer or expressed consent where the customer gives explicit permission to receive communication. We talked about this in more detail last summer when it was first announced.


  • Keep records of email opt-in, because as the sender you are responsible for proving consent.

  • Express content is not time-limited, it is valid unless the recipient withdraws their consent by opting out.

  • Implied consent is time limited and generally expires two years after the start of the relationship.

  • As with CAN-SPAM, you’ll want to ensure that your sender name is identifiable and you have a clear way to unsubscribe in each email.

  • To ensure a smooth transition into this new piece of legislation, senders have until July 1st ‘15 before the law goes into place. Before then, you should review your contact lists for type of consent, proof of opt-in and double check opt-out requests.

  • Failing to abide CASL regulations can set a sender back $1,000,000. And that’s just an individual sender, the number doubles to $10,000,000 for corporations.

European Parliament Article 13

The law varies slightly from country to country, but opt-in requirements still apply. Email may only be sent to recipients who have given consent through opt-in. But interestingly enough, this only applies to B2C relationships. In B2B relationships, individual EU states are allowed to make opt-out the minimum requirement, meaning they are able to message other businesses until they choose to remove themselves from communication.

For more specific EU legislation, you’ll want to browse through the directive.

At the end of the day, international spam laws are not all that dry. Most of the common legislation covers these three points; clear identification of your sender name, only sending with the permission of your recipient and providing an easy way to opt-out. Remember to read up on these laws regularly as they may change as new legislation is approved. If it’s possible to learn a new language by reading a book cover-to-cover, you can become a self-taught spam law expert too.

If you have more specific legal advice or are uncertain about certain details, you should consider talking with legal counsel. The above content should not be taken as legal advice.

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