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CAN-SPAM Five Years Later: Time for a Fresh Look at the Law

Jun 16, 2008
It's been almost 5 years since the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 went into effect, but don't think the law has faded by the wayside. Although anti-spammers have referred to the law as the YOU CAN-SPAM Act and are quick to point out shortcomings, the law is the law - and it is being enforced.

Anti-spam organizations as well as the FTC, Internet Service Providers and even popular sites like MySpace are becoming better and better at tracking down and prosecuting spammers.

If you're doubtful about the legal ramifications of failing to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, check out some of the sentences and fines that have been handed out to spammers since 2004. Fines have ranged from hundreds of thousands of dollars to hundreds of millions for spammers, and judges are handing out harsh sentences.

- 2006: online pharmacy spammer Christopher Smith was fined $5.3 million dollars as a result of a lawsuit brought by AOL. He received a 30 year sentence for charges that originated with this lawsuit.

- 2007: Jeffrey Kilbride was sentenced to over five years and James Schaffer was sentenced to six years in prison in charges related to porn spamming on AOL. Each was also fined $100,000, ordered to pay AOL $77,500, and had more than $1 million in revenue seized by the U.S. government

- 2007: Min Kim received 30-37 months in prison instead of a default 24-30 month sentence as a direct result of spamming.

- 2007: Todd Moeller was sentenced to 27 months in prison in charges relating to spamming.

- 2008: Edward Davidson was sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay almost $715,000 in fines for violating the CAN-SPAM Act and evading taxes.

This is just a sampling of some of the high-profile spam-related cases that have made the headlines over the past few years. Anyone who has had to deal with online-pharmacy and porn related spam clogging up their in-boxes is happy to see these criminals receive tough sentences and high fines.

You may not think you have much in common with these deliberate spammers, but if your latest email campaign violated the CAN-SPAM Act, you are guilty of a crime. Ignorance of the law will not help you in court, and you may be just as unpopular as these "bad guys" with your email recipients.

A Fresh Look at Compliance

It is up to every individual and business in the U.S. that relies on email as a form of advertisement or solicitation to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act. Although transactional types of commercial email are excluded from the Act, it is in every business' best interest to make account update emails or other transactional communications CAN-SPAM compliant.

The only way to be absolutely certain you are complying with the CAN-SPAM law is to read it thoroughly, and keep reviewing it. If you switch marketing companies or embark on a new email campaign strategy, or even if you take on a new marketing or affiliate partner, you must be certain they aren't violating the CAN-SPAM law, as well.

You can read the CAN-SPAM Act at the FTC website, which is easy to access through any search engine. The Act is straightforward and simple to understand, but if you do have questions, you can contact the FTC and resolve any doubts or issues you may have via their website or telephone.

Whether you are fined or jailed for failing to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act or not, spamming is very bad business. You owe it to your online customers and email recipients to respect their privacy and personal preferences regarding the mail they receive. At the very least, the CAN-SPAM Act will ensure your business isn't a source of frustration or worse for the Internet community.
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