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How will Canadian anti-spam legislation affect commercial email?

The Canadian anti-spam legislation applies to many enterprises. Expert Mike Chapple explains what the effects of CASL are for businesses.

I heard that the Canadian anti-spam law went into effect July 1, 2014. Because it requires senders to implement changes to any commercial electronic messages they send to Canada, or recipient email addresses they obtain, it's sure to affect enterprises. What does this law mean for businesses sending commercial email and how will it change future updates to the CAN SPAM act?

Any party sending commercial email through or from Canada is subject to the requirements of the Canadian anti-spam legislation (CASL). Passed in 2010, CASL regulates commercial email nationwide effective July 1, 2014. Some of the CASL provisions are similar to those in the United States' CAN SPAM Act, but there are important, significant differences for email marketers.

The first major difference is that CASL contains opt-in provisions, rather than using the CAN SPAM opt-out approach. In order to send commercial email in Canada, there must be either the express or implied consent of the recipient. If recipients have not explicitly agreed to receive email from the sender, they fall into one of four categories:

  • Their email address is conspicuously published in plain sight
  • The individual has been disclosed to the sender, such as when someone hands out a business card containing an email address
  • The sender has an existing business relationship with the individual
  • The sender has an existing non-business relationship with the individual

The opt-in provisions of CASL went into effect July 1, 2014 for any new email addresses used for commercial email. There is a 36-month transition period that allows organizations to continue sending commercial email to addresses already on their lists until July 2017, provided that the recipient has not explicitly opted out from the list.

Another major area of difference between the laws is the potential penalties for violations. The CAN SPAM Act allows the Federal Trade Commission to assess penalties of up to $16,000 for violations. CASL's penalties weigh in at $10 million per violation.

Finally, it's important to also be aware that CASL applies to other electronic messaging formats, including text messages, instant messages and messages sent through social media.

When sending email within, through or to Canada, be sure to read up on these new requirements and ensure full compliance with the Canadian anti-spam legislation.

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This was last published in November 2014

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