Email Marketing Laws: What You Need to Know to Avoid Fines

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If you’re a small business owner or are looking to create a website, email marketing can be a highly effective tool to reach your audience. However, it is also important to be aware of laws and regulations surrounding email marketing.

Those who fail to do so can face serious fines and penalties.

In this article, we’ll explain what email marketing regulations are and why it’s important that you know about them.

We’ll also discuss the most significant email marketing laws for US businesses, including the CAN-SPAM Act, CCPA, and GDPR, highlighting how they can impact your email marketing campaigns.


The Controlling the Assault of Non Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM Act) is an important piece of law that all US business owners should be aware of.

The laws surrounding this act establish what is required of businesses when it comes to sending email marketing messages. Specifically, it outlines the right of recipients to opt out of email marketing and highlights the potential penalties for non-compliance.

So, what is required of businesses under the CAN-SPAM Act?

  1. Don’t use misleading or false header info. For example, businesses must identify themselves as the sender of the email in the “From”, “Reply-To” and “To” fields.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines. Simply, do not use subject lines that are irrelevant to the content to get the email opened. An example may be using a subject line such as “You’ve won” when the email content has nothing to do with winning a competition.
  3. Make your opt-out mechanism clear. For example, all your marketing emails must include an opt-out that is easy to find and use. The process of opting out must not require giving any information beyond providing an email address.
  4. Opt-out requests must be honored promptly. For example, once a recipient has opted out of an email marketing list, a business must not send them marketing emails or sell/transfer the recipient’s email address to other parties.
  5. Businesses must include a physical postal address in all their marketing emails.

Each violation of CAN-SPAM can cost businesses penalties of up to $50,120. So, building a checklist for CAN-SPAM compliance into your email marketing processes can be a great way to ensure you do not break any of the associated laws.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a European Union privacy regulation that was enforced in 2018. GDPR was created to replace the outdated 1995 EU Data Protection Directive and align privacy laws with new technologies in order to protect the privacy rights of EU citizens.

Although this is an EU regulation, it applies to any business or organization that processes the personal data of EU citizens. So, GDPR still applies to many US businesses, even though they aren’t in the EU.

Under the GDPR, businesses must:

  • Obtain explicit consent to send marketing emails. For example, recipients of marketing emails must give specific consent to receive them (consent must not be bundled within other terms and conditions).
  • Make it easy to opt out of their marketing emails.
  • Include their identity in all email marketing communications, such as your business name and contact details.
  • Be transparent and truthful about the purpose of the communication.
  • Keep a record of any individuals that give content and the details of that consent.
  • Implement appropriate measures to protect personal data.

Although similar in many ways, GDPR does differ from CAN-SPAM. For example, GDPR applies to EU citizens, while CAN-SPAM applies to US citizens. GDPR requires explicit consent to process personal data, while CAN-SPAM requires a clear opt-out mechanism. GDPR is also explicit about the protection of personal data and personal rights, whereas CAN-SPAM doesn’t touch on these areas.

Finally, the penalties under GDPR are considerably higher fines for non-compliance than CAN-SPAM.

California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is an additional privacy regulation that US businesses need to be aware of. The CCPA was enacted in California in 2018 and became enforceable in early 2020. The act required that businesses provide California residents with certain rights and protections regarding the collection, use, and sale of their personal information.

The CCPA requires businesses to be transparent about the types of personal information collected through email marketing campaigns. It also requires that businesses provide an opt-out mechanism for California residents.

Finally, the CCPA requires that businesses keep records of personal information collected. Businesses can be fined up to $7,500 per intentional violation and $2,500 per unintentional violation of CCPA.

Best Practices for Email Marketing Compliance

We have covered some of the specific rules and regulations that US businesses need to be aware of when running marketing email campaigns. However, there are several best practices that you can adopt that will help position you for compliance across the board:

Opt-in and opt-out processes

Businesses should include an opt-in process for their marketing emails that require individuals to provide consent before being added to a marketing list. This means that recipients must actively choose to receive emails from a business by subscribing to their email list, rather than being subscribed by default or as part of other terms and conditions.

You should also use an opt-out process that allows users to unsubscribe from an email list by providing them with a simple opt-out mechanism.

Privacy policies and disclosures

A business should have a comprehensive privacy policy that informs individuals of the personal information collected by the business, how it is used, and how it is protected.

Your privacy policy should be easy to find and simple to understand.

List management and segmentation

List management and segmentation are essential parts of email marketing and compliance. Time should be dedicated to ensuring that all data on your list is up to date and that any opt-ins and opt-outs have been applied accordingly.

Segmentation can help you ensure that you only message recipients with information that is relevant to them.

Email content and subject lines

Relevance is key when it comes to email marketing compliance. It is crucial to ensure that subject lines accurately reflect the content of the email. This will ensure that you do not mislead recipients in any way. Discover more tips on writing email subject lines in our full guide.

It is also best practice to keep your content as relevant as possible to recipients. As noted above, segmenting your audience based on factors such as gender, location, and interest can help you better target your content.

Unsubscribe processes

Having an effective unsubscribe process is essential for email marketing compliance.

It is important to ensure that individuals can easily and permanently opt out of marketing emails, and that this mechanism is clearly displayed in every marketing email you send. You can see our list of unsubscribe email examples for inspiration.

As discussed above, when an individual opts out of your email marketing list, the necessary changes should be made promptly.

Email Marketing Rules and Regulations: Summary

It is crucial for US businesses to be aware of the email marketing rules and regulations that apply to them. In this guide, we have told you everything you need to know about the key regulations in this space.

Businesses that fail to adhere to these regulations may find themselves paying hefty fines in excess of $50,000.

It isn’t just the fines that can impact your business. Non-compliance can have a negative impact on your customer’s perception of your business, potentially damaging trust in your website and negatively impacting future profits.

On the flip side, if you show that you care about protecting your customer data and following the rules, you can avoid fines, stress, and maybe even increase customer loyalty along the way!


Email marketing laws are regulations that govern how businesses can collect, use, and manage personal information for email marketing purposes. Examples of email marketing laws include the CAN-SPAM Act and the GDPR, which set standards for email content, consent, and opt-out mechanisms. Failing to comply with these laws can result in hefty fines and other penalties.
The most important email marketing law for US businesses is the CAN-SPAM Act. This act sets requirements for commercial emails, including opt-out mechanisms and accurate sender information. The CCPA sets requirements for the collection, use, and sharing of personal information of California residents. Finally, the GDPR, while not limited to US businesses, applies to any business that processes the personal information of individuals in the European Union.
Written by:
I’m a content writer for Website Builder Expert. I’m a bit of a business and marketing nerd and love sharing my knowledge and experience to help others achieve their business goals. From complex engineering and brewing to international events and brand design agencies, I’ve worked in marketing roles for well over 10 years now. During this time I developed a skill for turning complex (and occasionally dull) information into exciting, easy-to-understand, and actionable content. I also set up my own content marketing consultancy and launched my own ecommerce business on Shopify.

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