UK DMA Stops Opt-In E-Mail Marketing -- For Now

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LONDON -- The UK Direct Marketing Association scored a significant victory last month when the British government decided on opt-out rather than opt-in for regulations it issued to implement the European Union's distance selling directive.

As a result, unsolicited commercial e-mail can be sent without requiring prior consent of those being e-mailed and the e-mail preference service can continue to operate without moving to an opt-in regime.

Nor will the government need to impose a "statutory-backed" mail preference service, meaning MPS will be allowed to continue operating in its self-regulatory form.

The British DMA spent months lobbying the British government on both issues and is "pleased at the outcome," said spokeswoman Natasha Schwarzbach. But she warned that this may only be a skirmish in a longer war.

"It must be remembered that a new proposal from the European Commission on the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector requires opt-in for e-mail. The position may therefore change again in due course."

The British Department of Trade and Industry issued a consultative paper on the directive last November that included the opt-in provision and asked for comment from interested parties.

On Dec. 23 of last year the DMA sent a submission to the government on the opt-out/opt-in provision regarding e-mails in which "it strongly urged opt-out, emphasizing that it was the standard mechanism in basic EU legislation such as data protection and e-commerce."

Opt-in for e-mail, the DMA suggested, "would also seriously impede the development of e-commerce, particularly for SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises].

"Details of the US e-mail preference services were also provided together with its development on a global basis."

The distance selling directive was adopted by the EU on May 20, 1997. The UK was given until June of this year to adapt the regulation into British law.

A distance contract is one where supplier and consumer do not come face to face up to and including the moment when the contract is concluded, meaning when the contract is made, not when the performance of the contract is completed and the goods are delivered.

The directive also covers these points:

• Contracts for both the supply of goods and services conducted at a distance between suppliers and consumers.

• Consumers are individuals acting in their private capacity.

• Sale of financial services is not covered because they are part of a separate directive.

• Consumers must be given basic information before the contract is concluded, e.g., name and address of supplier.

• Consumers can withdraw from the contract within seven working days without penalty.

• Suppliers must deliver within 30 days.

• Inertia selling is banned.

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