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Home > Legal > CAN SPAM

The CAN SPAM Act of 2003

Spam is unsolicited commercial email, and for two decades it has been an unforgiving intrusion the world's 3.6 billion email accounts. In 2003, the U.S. passed legislation designed to protect us from the continuing onslaught.

More than 70% of all email is spam.

The CAN SPAM Act (officially the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act) took effect on January 1, 2003. CAN SPAM does not make spam illegal, but it does create a set of strict rules that spammers must follow in order to continue their practices legally.

According to this new law, spam must:

  • Include an Opt-Out or Unsubscribe mechanism:
    Spam must contain a working “unsubscribe” option. This can be achieved by allowing users to reply to spam messages to unsubscribe, or by providing a link to an unsubscribe page. Spammers are required to honor unsubscribe requests within 10 days.
  • Include a valid physical postal address for the sender:
    Spam must contain a valid physical postal address in the body of the email that can be used to contact the spammer through the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Use a functioning return email address:
    Spam must contain a valid return email address that can be used to contact the spammer. This return address must remain valid for at least 30 days after the distribution of the spam.
  • Include an advertisement (ADV) label in the subject line:
    Recipients of spam must be given upfront explicit knowledge that the email is spam, by having “ADV” in the subject of the email.
  • Use valid header information:
    Spammers are forbidden from sending emails with deceptive or misleading information in the “From” and “Subject” lines of the message. Spammers are also forbidden from disguising the origin of the email in any way — including using false information in email account or domain name registration, or by falsifying information in the extended header of an email.
  • Include a warning label advising sexual content:
    Spam containing sexual content must have a warning label describing the nature of the content in the subject line. There is a 5-year jail penalty for non-compliance with this requirement.
  • Have properly managed lists of addresses:
    Spammers may not send spam to addresses obtained through illegitimate means—including the use of email harvesters, dictionary attacks, or random email generators. Furthermore, once an email address has been removed from a spammer’s mailing list, it can no longer be sold to another spammer.
  • Not be sent through servers without authorized access:
    Spammers must not gain unauthorized access to servers in order to usurp network and computer resources for the purpose of sending spam.
  • Must not be sent through an open relay server:
    Open relay servers, which make it possible for an unscrupulous third party to route large volumes of email, must not be used for distributing spam.

Unfortunately, the CAN SPAM Act offers no protection from spam originating outside of the United States.  It does stipulate, however, the eventual creation of a reward system that will benefit people who turn in violators of the CAN SPAM Act.  Under this proposed system, people who turn in CAN SPAM violators may be entitled to 20% of fines paid.

Read the complete act here: CAN SPAM Act.

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