International E-mail Marketing Laws: How It Affects You

International E-mail Marketing Laws: How It Affects You


When it comes to digital marketing, there is access to infinite amounts of data about our prospects and customers through a myriad of different tools and across many channels. It’s exciting knowing that you are able to utilise that data to market to our target base and create fantastic opportunities, but you have to keep in mind that by doing so you have to be held accountable for how you use the information.

E-mail and digital marketing legislation vary from country to country, which makes compliance difficult to achieve. Before starting your e-mail or digital marketing campaign, it’s your responsibility to fully understand the anti-spam laws and marketing regulations for all of the regions where you do business.

Let’s give you a brief guide to laws that govern several countries’ you may do business with, and review what we as marketers need to know to remain in compliance:  (Disclaimer:  Please bear in mind this blog only contains general information about legal matters.  The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such).

United Kingdom

If you are targeting customers in the United Kingdom, it’s important to be knowledgeable of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive).  Signed in 2003, this is a law which has made it illegal to send an automated recorded message for direct marketing purposes via a telephone, without prior consent of the subscriber.  This directive also includes all electronic communications, such as email or SMS mobile phone messages.

One important aspect covered by this regulation is that it is unlawful to send someone direct marketing who has not specifically granted their permission (via an opt-in agreement), unless there is a previous relationship between the parties. As a marketer, you aren’t allowed to add people’s details to your marketing database and offer an “opt-out” after they have started sending direct marketing.

This law can be enforced against any offending companies or person anywhere in the European Union. The UK Information Commissioner‘s Office holds responsibility for the enforcement of unsolicited e-mails and considers complaints about breaches. A breach of an enforcement notice is a criminal offence subject to a fine of up to £500,000 depending on the circumstances.

 United States

For email marketers targeting customers in the United States, it’s important to have a full understanding of the CAN-SPAM Act. This legislation covers all commercial messages, which means any email with the goal of advertising and/or promoting a product or service. Penalties for failing to comply with this law can result in fines of up to $16,000 per email sent.

According to the USA Federal Trade Commission, marketers can’t use false or misleading header information or use deceptive subject lines.  Recipients must be able identify the message they have received as an advertisement, and they must also be informed of you business’s actual physical address.  Marketers have to explicitly inform recipients how to opt-out of receiving future emails from you (unsubscribe), as well as honour opt-out requests promptly and keep an eye on what others are doing on your behest.


If you are sending email to prospects in Canada, you must have full knowledge of Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). This is one of the world’s strictest anti-spam laws, covering all the requirements of the US’s CAN-SPAM Act with some added points.  To be in compliance with CASL, you will need full permission from the recipient to send emails to them, as well as proof of them opting-in to receive emails from your business.  Your full business information identification is required to send emails, and marketers are barred from collecting and using email addresses without permission.

Both laws must be followed if you are sending across North America, so even if you’re only sending messages within the US, following CASL regulations is strongly advised.


There isn’t a single anti-spam law or legislation that covers all of Europe, but there are anti-spam laws in place for a number of countries.  Some law similarities:  opt-in permission is required before you can send someone your data; a functional opt-out process with required notice must be provided; and people who opt out must be withdrawn from your lists forever.

If you are planning a European email marketing campaign, it’s not only important to segment each country for your campaign, but also to be fully aware of how anti-spam laws are applied in those specific countries.  Painting all European countries with a broad brush increases the risk of overlooking compliance issues in some countries. Utilising geographic segmentation and creating per-country anti-spam law checklists protects you from major stumbling blocks while also executing email marketing best practice.

 Asia/South America/Africa

At this time, there are no wide-ranging email regulations in place that circumscribe an entire continent and the many countries within them. While many countries in Asia, South America, and Africa have less rigorous requirements, they all still require that ever important opt-out notice. Nevertheless, it’s still important to have a full understanding of which countries have measures in place and how to oblige them despite the lack of firm anti-spam laws in each area.

Australia and New Zealand

For those sending to Australian recipients, it’s important to understand its Spam Act of 2003.  Similar to Canada’s CASL law, permission is required and the gathering of emails is prohibited. The only messages that can be sent legally without permission are messages from government bodies, registered charities, registered political parties, and messages from educational institutions to former or current students. While this law doesn’t apply in New Zealand, consent and the ability to unsubscribe are still required.


Remember: as a marketer, it is your responsibility to comply with the laws of the countries you mail to. Being an ethical digital marketer is not only the right thing to be—it can also save you a lot of time, money and headaches in the long run!

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