Can Spam Act of 2003

The Can Spam Act of 2003 is a commonly used name for the United States Federal law more formally known as S. 877 or the "Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003." The law took effect on January 1, 2004. The Can Spam Act allows courts to set damages of up to $2 million when spammers break the law. Federal district courts are allowed to send spammers to jail and/or triple the damages if the violation is found to be willful.

The Can Spam Act requires that businesses:

  • Clearly label commercial e-mail as advertising
  • Use a truthful and relevant subject line
  • Use a legitimate return e-mail address
  • Provide a valid physical address
  • Provide a working opt-out option
  • Process opt-out requests within ten business days

Critics of the Can Spam Act warn it will be next to impossible to enforce the legislation because spam is an international problem and the US government will not be able to impose punishment on law-breakers outside its own jurisdiction. Proponents maintain that stiff monetary penalties will eventually createa financial disincentive for spam and the new law is a step in the right direction, especially if followed up with a national "do not spam" list. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) have applauded the legislation. Those without ties to marketing and advertising, on the other hand, are generally less enthusiastic about the Act, because as is, it legitimizes the sending of unsolicited bulk e-mail (UBE). Some media pundits have made pointed references to an unintended second meaning for "Can Spam" as in "You CAN spam, as long as you follow these rules."

This was last updated in March 2007

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