Marketers ready for Canadian anti-spam law

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Anne Mitchell
Anne Mitchell

North American marketers are preparing for Canada's anti-spam law, known as CASL, which could go into effect as early as the fourth quarter of this year. However, industry experts say most legitimate American marketers are ready for the law.

Unlike the US CAN-SPAM Act, passed in 2003, which requires a visible and operable opt-out mechanism in each email, CASL mandates that consumers must opt in to email marketing. At a glance, its regulations and fine mechanisms seem daunting. It applies to every message sent from or accessed by a computer in Canada and regulates all electronic messaging, including SMS, instant messaging and social media postings. Failure to comply with the law would result in fines of up to $10 million for companies and 
$1 million for individuals. It also provides 
for private right of action. 

However, the email marketing industry and legal experts don't believe the law should keep most legitimate US marketers up at night. "US businesses that are CAN-SPAM compliant — which is a necessity but not a completely sufficient part of email marketing best practices — will most likely already be CASL compliant," said Anne Mitchell, president and CEO of the Institute for Social Internet Public Policy and one of the authors of CAN-SPAM. 

She adds that there are exceptions to the CASL opt-in requirement, including prior business and family exceptions. Yet some marketers are concerned about the implementation of CASL because it would be the first time a US email marketer could be punished under another country's anti-spam legislation. "I have no insight into the Canadian budget for enforcing this law, but I have to 
believe that like CAN-SPAM, CASL is targeting egregious spammers," added Mitchell.

Justin Premick, director of education marketing at AWeber Communications, an email marketing service provider, agrees that US marketers are ready for the law because most email service providers require permission-based and opt-in marketing. 

"CASL won't spur a major change for the marketers already getting their emails delivered at a high rate," he said. "But those barely operating under CAN-SPAM on the fringes of best practices are certainly going to have to make changes to comply." 

Premick predicts that a lawsuit will eventually set a precedent for how seriously businesses take the law, but that a similar opt-in-only law will not be passed in the US in the near future. 

Neil Schwartzman, executive director of CAUCE (Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email) Canada and vice chair of the public policy committee at MAAWG (Message Anti-Abuse Working Group) encouraged American marketers to get info-rmed about CASL, even if they understand the CAN-SPAM legislation.

"CASL does render CAN-SPAM obsolete, because it's opt-in," he said. "Most major companies maintain a Canadian presence, so they definitely fall under CASL. Now's the time for marketers to review what they've been doing so far."


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