If you do business online, you may wonder if it is legal to compile a list of email addresses of people whom you do not personally know and email them a marketing message about your product or service? Here are a few considerations:
Effect of CAN-SPAM Act
The CAN-SPAM Act applies. CAN-SPAM stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act. It is a federal law designed to combat spam, otherwise known as unsolicited commercial email.
However, the CAN-SPAM Act does not prevent you from sending an initial commercial email. Instead, the CAN-SPAM Act requires you to use honest business practices in the email you send. CAN-SPAM requirements include
using accurate header information,
using an accurate subject line,
providing recipients with an opt-out method to future emails from you, and
including your valid postal address.
I discuss CAN SPAM compliance in The Cyber Citizen’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle.
CAN-SPAM Is Not All You Must Consider
Even though CAN-SPAM doesn’t prohibit sending an initial commercial email, sending a mass email to a list that is not permission-based might still be considered as bad netiquette. Also, sending commercial email to a non-permission-based list may violate the Terms of Service of your website host provider or the service you use to distribute the emails (such as Constant Contact or Vertical Response) and it may get your domain name blacklisted as a spammer.
Collection of Email Addresses
How you plan to obtain the email addresses also matters. Certain forms of email harvesting are criminal under the CAN-SPAM Act as well as other state laws.