CAN-SPAM Law: What it Means for Your Business


At first glance, it looks like there may actually be an end to all those Viagra, weight loss and sexual enhancement ads that appear in your inbox each morning. Just four months after the new CAN-SPAM law was enacted, the first spammers were arrested. The four Michigan men are accused of operating an Internet scam involving the sale of fraudulent weight-loss products, sexual aids and herbal supplements through millions of unsolicited emails.

According to CIO Today, the men are accused of a number of illegal activities, including spoofing return email addresses by using open proxy servers owned by a variety of major companies and organizations.

Although violating the spam law carries a punishment of up to five years in prison, it’s doubtful the men would actually go to prison for the violation of the anti-spam law. Not because they are innocent, but because there are so many gray areas in the way the current CAN-SPAM law is written.

CAN-SPAM Has Many Gray Areas & Loopholes
Since the law was enacted, marketers and consumers have many questions about how to comply with the new law. As a result, the FTC says it will spend the next 18 months or so, further defining the law.

One of the main issues that has legitimate online marketers questioning the new law, is the section outlawing all commercial email, which is defined as any email sent by a Web site with a commercial purpose. This piece of the law could clearly hurt legitimate B2B online communications. The following are some other areas of the new law that deserve a closer look:

  1. According to CAN-SPAM, all commercial emails must contain a physical address.
    In theory this sounds great. But how can you verify if the address is actually real? In addition, many spammers who are trying to appear CAN-SPAM compliant resort to tricks such as posting their company address and contact information within a graphic. They can later easily change the address graphic at anytime, by simply uploading a new graphic to the server.

  2. According to CAN-SPAM, all commercial all emails must provide newsworthy content.
    Again, that sounds like a legitimate request at first glance. But as a result, spammers are literally providing one line of “newsworthy” content, followed by several ads.

What about the Do Not Email Registry?
This would function similar to the Do Not Call list, where advertisers would be financially penalized for emailing anyone on the list. Again, another great idea in theory, but upon closer look there are some significant risks.


  1. There are many ways spammers could get a hold of an online database of people who registered with the Do Not Registry list. And once compromised, it is questionable whether or not the list could ever be re-secured.

  2. One of the proposals includes a domain-wide Do Not Email option. This option involves domain owners submitting their domain name to have all associated emails excluded from spam. The problem? This option could potentially kill legitimate B2B email communications, as the current Do Not Email proposal contains no exemptions for preexisting business relationships.

Even if CAN-SPAM is Better Defined, Can it be Enforced?
Since the CAN-SPAM law was enacted, numerous studies have shown no reduction in spam. In fact almost 58 percent of our inboxes is still spam.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer was honest about his lack of resources to enforce the new email law. According to Ben Isaacson’s February report on the Spam & the Law conference, Lockyer stressed the importance of getting the industry’s support to help enforce the law. “He cited an online form that can be used to report violations… and went so far as to give out his personal email address to anyone (at the conference) who would provide assistance.”

Issue of Offshore Spamming
So if we all pitch in, and help identify spammers, does this mean the end of spam is near? Not likely. Many spammers are simply moving their operations offshore. Which can be as simple as setting us a server in countries such as Taiwan, China, India or Russia, making it almost impossible for U.S. law enforcement to prosecute violators without the help of officials in that country.

The End of Spam Starts With You
Reducing spam must start close to home through our own email marketing practices. Make a commitment not to buy or rent email lists. No matter what an email marketing company will tell you, no one opts in to have their email address sold. Buying or renting an email list is spam, period.

If you are having trouble growing your current email list try offering a bigger incentive in your next email newsletter or announcement to spark viral marketing. For example a two for one offer, catchy contest or a significant discount will encourage your existing subscribers to forward your message to co-workers, friends or family, thereby getting your message out to a larger audience (without spamming) and potentially increasing your email list (without buying one).

We are a long way from the end of spam. However, the CAN-SPAM law is a positive step in the right direction.