Happy Anniversary, CAN-SPAM Act

Eight years and three days ago today, the federal CAN-SPAM Act was signed into law. The Act delegated enforcement of a single set of federal standards governing unsolicited email communication to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). With electronic communications, including email, increasingly common in dental office marketing to patients, I thought I’d honor the anniversary of the Act with a quick mention and provide a link to the FTC’s guide.

At the time of the CAN-SPAM Act’s enactment, it was thought the FTC might use the latitude given them to enact a national email “opt out” registration list, similar to the FTC’s “National Do Not Call Registry” for telemarketing. So far that hasn’t occurred, so it’s not quite as simple as “in or out” when to determine who can receive email marketing and how. But CAN-SPAM is a national standard, making email marketing regulations much easier to understand.

If your dental office currently engages in email communications to patients containing a commercial component (which can be as innocuous as a “refer a friend” link), even if you use a professional email marketing software which claims to “support CAN-SPAM compliance” or something similar, it’s still a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basic tenets of the Act. If you read the fine print of the terms and conditions you signed to use your email marketing software, you probably will discover the responsibility for conforming to CAN-SPAM requirements is ultimately your responsibility.

The good news is the FTC has created an excellent seven-point primer called “CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business” posted here. It also includes a handy FAQ and resources for more information. Here are the seven common-sense points covered in the guide:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
  3. Identify the message as an ad.
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you.
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly.
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf.

The guide does a much better job of covering the components of the Act than I could, so I won’t try here, but it’s worth mentioning that each email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000. A little bit of time invested in education, could pay off in peace of mind.

Virtually all email which primarily promotes or advertises a commercial product or service is covered by this law, even if it’s not bulk email. There are additional guidelines for text and fax marketing as well.

Email marketing is a powerful patient communication tool, and one your office should not be afraid to use. We hope to provide more tips and resources regarding email marketing on this blog in the future.

This blog is intended for general information purposes only. The information presented does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Always consult an attorney regarding legal issues and implications.