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Collecting E-Mail Addresses Legally

Spam is bothersome enough that lawmakers enacted the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 to help prosecute spammers. The acronym comes from its official title, the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003. The law makes certain e-mail marketing practices illegal and gives legal definitions to many best practices.

The CAN-SPAM Act makes certain types of e-mail address collection illegal and requires permission from your e-mail list subscribers before you send certain types of content. (The CAN-SPAM Act uses the term affirmative consent instead of permission.

Potentially illegal e-mail addresses collection methods aren't always easy to spot, so the best practice is to make sure that you have explicit permission from everyone on your list to send them e-mail. Here are some best practices for steering clear of potentially permission-less e-mail addresses:

  • Never purchase an e-mail list from a company that allows you to keep the e-mail addresses as a data file.
    E-mail addresses kept in a data file are easily bought and sold, and e-mails addresses with explicit permission are too valuable to sell.
  • Never collect e-mail addresses from Web sites and other online directories.
    You don't have affirmative consent from the owner if you harvest e-mail addresses without their knowledge or agreement.
  • Don't use an e-mail address collection service.
    Unless such a service collects confirmed permission from every subscriber that it obtains.
  • Don't borrow an e-mail list from another business or send e-mail to an e-mail list.
    Those subscribers didn't explicitly opt-in to receive your e-mails.
  • Don't rent an e-mail list unless you are certain that the list rental company's practices are legally compliant.
    Most rental companies don't have permission-based lists.
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