The CAN-SPAM Act, established in 2003, establishes the rules for commercial email and messages, gives recipients the right to have a business stop emailing them, and outlines the penalties if caught being non-compliant. It also discriminates between two kinds of emails: Commercial and Transactional. Commercial emails are subject to stricter standards than are those considered to be Transactional. 


Commercial email is any email where the main purpose "is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service”. Transactional or relationship content "facilitates an already agreed-upon transaction or updates a customer about an ongoing transaction".


CAN-SPAM doesn’t only apply to mass email. "It covers all commercial messages, which the law defines as 'any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,' including email that promotes content on commercial websites. The law makes no exception for business-to-business email. It does, however, exempt transactional and relationship messages.


What does this law mean for business owners? This means that your emails need to comply in three main areas: unsubscribe, content, and sending behavior.


What are the penalties for non-compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act?

For every single email that violates the CAN-SPAM Act, the FTC will fine you $16,000. So, if you're caught breaking the rules for a list of 1,000 email addresses… you would be fined for each email.


In order to be CAN-SPAM compliant, it's important your emails follow these rules:

  • Include your valid physical postal address in every email you send out.
  • Provide a clear and obvious way to unsubscribe from every email you send. If someone attempts to unsubscribe. They must be unsubscribed within 10 days, and the unsubscribe/remove me action remains functional for 30 days from the date the email was sent. Don't make it hard to unsubscribe from emails. You cannot 1) charge a fee 2) require a recipient to provide personally identifying information beyond an email address, or 3) make recipients take unnecessary steps other than replying to an email or visiting a single page on a website to unsubscribe themselves from your emails.
  • Do use clear From, To, and Reply to language that accurately reflects who you are. This applies to the person or business sending the message, as well as the domain name and email address.
  • Don’t sell or transfer any email addresses to another list.
  • The subject line accurately represents the content of the email.


Please consult the FTC website if you have questions.