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Businesses must follow E-mail laws

The usual return on investment for businesses engaged in email marketing is approximately 4,300 percent, according to the Direct Marketing Association. But, like other commercial law restrictions, great rewards may be tempered by significant penalties for violating email laws and regulations.

Businesses must comply with laws that protect consumers from unwanted emails. These include the CAN-SPAM Act and the Federal Trade Commission's commercial marketing regulations.

Federal rules govern all electronic messages that are a commercial message or that promote a commercial product or service including email promoting commercial websites. There are no exceptions for email transmitted between businesses.

Some important FTC rules stand out. A business should not disguise the initiator of the message by using false or misleading information concerning the sender, recipient, or reply fields. The domain name and other routing information must accurately disclose the sender of the message. The sender must also provide their postal or street address, PO Box, or commercial mail service.

Subject lines may be interesting but not deceptive. Readers cannot be lured into opening the email by contents that appear to be something other than what it is. An email that is an advertisement or promotion cannot be disguised as an account update or anything indicating that is sharing account information with them.

Recipients must receive information on how they stop receiving future emails from the sender. This includes a clear explanation about opting out of the sender's email list and a return email address or other convenient electronic method for being removed from the list.

Fines for violations of these rules are steep. A penalty of $16,000 may be imposed for each email that violates these rules. If a business contracts with another company to manage its email, the business is legally responsible for that company's compliance.

Attorneys can advise companies on this type of regulatory compliance and other commercial law issues. They can take measures to avoid penalties and help resolve allegations of violations.

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