The Ultimate Guide to International Email Law [Infographic]

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As spam continues to become a bigger issue, governments around the world have put regulations in place to protect their citizens from unsolicited email. While email marketers are usually aware of local laws, in many cases little is known about international requirements.

Keeping up with international anti-spam laws is hard! Practices that are completely legit in one country could be absolutely off-limits somewhere else and might result in hefty fines. We’ve teamed up with newsletter2go and put together this overview to help you navigate through the international email requirements.

Check out the infographic or read the English transcription below. This infographic is also available in French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Dutch.

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WHICH LAWS APPLY?

The first step to international email compliance: Find out where your subscribers are based and what regulations are in place in those countries. Local associations are a great resource for learning more about regional requirements.

  • US – CAN-SPAM Act
  • Canada – CASL
  • Australia – Spam Act of 2003
  • European Union – Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications
  • UK – Data Protection Act
  • Germany – Federal Data Protection Act, Telemedia Act, Act Against Unfair Competition
  • The Netherlands – Dutch Telecommunications Act
  • France – Article L. 43-5 Code of Postal and Electronic Communications
  • Spain – Spanish Act on the Information Society Services and e-Commerce
  • Italy – Italian Data Protection Act

WHO ARE YOU ALLOWED TO EMAIL?

A key goal of email laws is protecting citizens from receiving email they don’t want. To help combat this issue, many laws require marketers to collect permission from the owner of an email address prior to any communication. This is usually done by asking people to opt-in to receive messages.

One exception to this is the US CAN-SPAM Act. Under CAN-SPAM, you don’t need consent prior to sending an email as long as you provide people with the opportunity to unsubscribe at any time.

Consent required: 

  • Canada
  • UK
  • Australia
  • Germany
  • France
  • Spain
  • The Netherlands

Consent not required

  • US

Are pre-checked boxes allowed to collect consent?
While some jurisdictions accept pre-checked opt-in boxes and other forms of passive consent (e.g. during a checkout process), others are much more strict and require active consent. Countries that don’t allow pre-checked boxes include:

  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Germany
  • Netherlands
  • France

Consent record keeping

If an email recipient complains, it is the sender’s responsibility to provide a valid proof of consent in front of courts. Therefore, always keep track of subscribers’ IP addresses and the date and time of their opt-in, as well as the specific URL of the email acquisition source.

WHAT IF YOUR SUBSCRIBERS DON’T WANT TO RECEIVE YOUR EMAILS ANYMORE?

On this matter, international laws agree: You must give your subscribers the opportunity to unsubscribe from receiving your messages. While there are different unsubscribe methods—for example via call center or email reply—providing a working unsubscribe link in every email is a must for every email you send.

The Unsubscribe Process
While each country has different guidelines around the unsubscribe process, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t charge a fee
  • Don’t require any other information beyond an email address
  • Don’t ask subscribers to log in
  • Don’t ask subscribers to visit more than one page to submit their request

Providing an opt-out is required everywhere. The only difference is how much time you’re allowed to take to process the request. If you take too long or don’t process the unsubscribe at all, you’ll risk getting fined.

Time allowed to process an opt-out request:

  • US: 10 business days
  • Canada: 10 business days
  • Australia: 5 days
  • United Kingdom: 28 days
  • Germany: as reasonable*
  • France: as reasonable*
  • Spain: 10 days
  • Italy: as reasonable*
  • The Netherlands: 30 days

*Local laws don’t explicitly state a maximum time to process unsubscribes. Decisions are made case by case.

While Governments may give you up to 30 days to process an opt-out, subscribers will not.

You face an increasing risk of spam complaints with each email you send to someone who has submitted an opt-out request. Subscribers know that brands can honor subscribes immediately in most cases, so taking more than a day or two may make them think that your unsubscribe process is broken. At that point, they may think the “report spam” button is their only recourse.

WHAT INFORMATION DO YOU HAVE TO INCLUDE IN EACH EMAIL?

International email laws not only regulate who you’re allowed to send email to and how people can opt-out from receiving messages, but also specify what kind of information you need to include in each commercial mailing.

United States:

  • unsubscribe
  • clear identification of sender
  • postal address

Canada:

  • unsubscribe
  • clear identification of sender
  • postal address
  • info about how to contact the sender

United Kingdom:

  • unsubscribe
  • clear identification of sender
  • postal address

Australia:

  • unsubscribe
  • clear identification of sender
  • info about how to contact the sender

Germany:

  • unsubscribe
  • clear identification of sender
  • postal address
  • info about how to contact the sender

The Netherlands:

  • unsubscribe
  • clear identification of sender
  • postal address

France:

  • unsubscribe
  • clear identification of sender
  • postal address

Spain:

  • unsubscribe
  • clear identification of sender
  • postal address

Italy:

  • unsubscribe
  • clear identification of sender
  • postal address

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON’T STICK TO THE RULES?

Violating international email laws has its price.

In each country, breaches of anti-spam laws can result in serious penalties. Fines for not complying with the law can vary based on a number of factors, including the nature of the violation, whether or not it’s a repeated offense, and more.

  • USA – up to USD 16,000 per email
  • Canada – up to CAD 10 million
  • Australia – up to AUD 1.7 million
  • UK – up to GBP 500,000
  • Germany – up to EUR 4,000 per email
  • The Netherlands – up to EUR 450,000
  • France – up to EUR 750 per email
  • Spain – up to EUR 600,000 per infringement
  • Italy – up to 3 years imprisonment

Compu-Finder, a Canadian training company, was slapped with a fine of CAD 1.1 million in 2015. According to the authorities, Compu-Finder had sent emails without consent, as well as messages in which the unsubscribe mechanisms did not function properly.

CHECKLIST

Building emails that comply with international requirements can be hard, but following this checklist is a good start for staying on track when sending email internationally:

  • Only send emails to people who’ve opted-in to receiving your messages. Keep records of those consents.
  • Include a working unsubscribe link in your emails. Make unsubscribing easy and honor unsubscribe requests as quickly as possible.
  • Make sure your subscribers can easily identify you as the sender. Include your brand’s name within the mailing and choose a distinct from-name.
  • Allow subscribers to easily get in touch with you. Include a valid postal address and contact email address in each mailing and make sure your reply-to email is working.
  • Be honest. Don’t hide the commercial character of your email and never use false or misleading subject lines or content. 

Sources & Links to Learn More

Local Associations

Other Resources


Disclaimer

This post provides a high-level overview about international email laws, but is not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice. Please contact your attorney for advice on email marketing regulations or any specific legal problems.

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