Email marketing can be an effective tool and benefit both the company and the customer. The company can inexpensively inform patrons of current sales, promotions and new products or services. The customer benefits because they have the opportunity to take advantage of the savings. But, what happens when the fine line between requested marketing emails and unsolicited messages (SPAM) is crossed? The consequences can lead to upset customers and in extreme cases, lawsuits.

Laws have not caught up with technology; however, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (Pub. L. 108-187, S. 877) gives us some guidelines of what is and is not legal in the U.S. Many states also have laws that govern email advertising and these should be investigated before doing an email blast. The guidelines set by the CAN-SPAM Act, which President Bush signed into law on December 16, 2003, are:


  • Unsolicited commercial email messages must be labeled
  • Unsolicited commercial email messages must include opt-out instructions
  • Unsolicited emails must include the sender's physical address
  • The CAN-SPAM Act prohibits the use of deceptive subject lines and false headers
  • The FTC is authorized (but not required) to establish a "do-not-email" registry


Currently numerous unenacted bills are attempting to put more restrictions on Spammers and further protect consumers. Some bills to watch for in the future include the Anti-Phishing Act of 2004. This bill would prohibit sending e-mails that direct the recipient to a website that imitates a legitimate website and lures recipients to provide personal information.

The Anti-Spam Act of 2003 is similar to the CAN-SPAM Act with the exception that it would also make it illegal to send commercial email messages to addresses generated by an automated dictionary attack program.

The Ban on Deceptive Unsolicited Bulk Electronic Mail Act of 2003 would require commercial emails to include opt-out instructions and companies honor opt-out requests. The act prohibits false information in the headers and collecting email addresses from web pages or other sources.

The Computer Owners' Bill of Rights requires the FTC to create a "do-not-email" registry and enforce a penalty upon people who send commercial emails to those on the registry.

The Criminal Spam Act of 2003 prohibits deceptive headers, the use of a third party's computer to distribute bulk commercial emails and the use of more than one domain name or email accounts to send such messages.

The Restrict and Eliminate the Delivery of Unsolicited Commercial Electronic (REDUCE) Mail or Spam Act of 2003 would require commercial emails to include a valid reply address, opt-out instructions and include the label "ADV" or "ADV:ADLT" or something similar. This would apply to emails sent in bulk of more than 1,000 from the same email address in a two-day period. It would also prohibit misleading headers and deceptive subject lines in all unsolicited emails.

The Reduction in Distribution of Spam Act of 2003 would require all commercial emails to be labeled (but not by a standard label), the sender's physical address and an opt-out option. It would prohibit the use of misleading headers.

The Stop Pornography and Abusive Marketing (SPAM) Act would establish a "no-spam" registry and make it unlawful to send unsolicited commercial messages to people on that list. It would be unlawful to send explicit emails to minors and all commercial messages would be labeled with "ADV" in the subject line except those sent in compliance with an FTC-approved self-regulatory program. It would be illegal to send commercial emails to harvested addresses, with misleading subject lines or in violation of an Internet service provider's policies. This act would also require commercial emails to include the sender's physical address.

At TopTenREVIEWS We Do the Research So You Don't Have To. 


Sorkin, D. E. (2005). Spam laws. Retrieved Feb. 21, 2006, from
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