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Can You Spam?

Can You Spam?

• By Ashe Lockhart
• February 17, 2009

>> Q. I received an email that went to many other recipients. All of the other recipients’ e-mail addresses were displayed. Am I legally allowed to use those addresses to send information about my business? Where can I look up rules and regulations?

If you send an unsolicited email to the other recipients, this may be a spam e-mail. In 2003, Congress enacted a law called the CAN-SPAM Act to regulate spam e-mail (sometimes jokingly referred to as the “You Can Spam Act”).

The CAN-SPAM legislation prohibits sending commercial e-mail without an accurate return e-mail address, using false or misleading transmission information, using deceptive subject headings or to a recipient who has requested not to receive further commercial e-mail. It also requires that the sender include clear and conspicuous identification that the e-mail is an advertisement or solicitation, an obvious means by which the recipient can opt out of further messages and a valid physical postal address for the sender.

There is more to it than this summary, but the basic idea is to ensure that commercial e-mail is sent by a legitimate business identified in the e-mail and that recipients can opt out of further distributions.

Also, each state has its own law. In fact, a Raleigh man, Jeremy Jaynes, was convicted in 2004 in Virginia of violating the Virginia anti-spam laws. The jury recommended that he should be sentenced to nine years in prison. While that may seem like a hefty penalty, he was sending about 10 million e-mails each day, and he earned as much as $750,000 to $975,000 per month. Fortunately for Mr. Jaynes, his conviction was overturned in 2007. But regardless of whether Jaynes was sent to prison, he spent a lot of time and money defending himself.

My point is that sending commercial e-mail can be tricky and the mood of the public, lawmakers and law enforcement authorities is to give spammers 90 days in the hole.

Which brings me to the second and most important problem you have with using these e-mail addresses. Given the proliferation of spam (some estimates are that 95 percent of e-mail traffic is spam) and that people universally hate spam, do you really want to risk the reputation of your business by sending unsolicited commercial e-mail about your business?

If you want to look further into the laws governing commercial e-mail, check out the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email at www.cauce.org, Spamhaus at www.spamhaus.org, or Spam Laws at www.spamlaws.com. Finally, if you do a Google search on “spam laws” or “unsolicited commercial email,” you will come up with hundreds, if not thousands, of relevant Web sites.

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Ashe Lockhart – Principal

Ashe Lockhart
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