CAN-SPAM

Overview

Below is an explanation of the CAN-SPAM law that directly applies to the University of Colorado's Bulk Mail Policy and Guidelines. Please review the information below to gain a full understanding of the law and how it affects those sending e-mails on behalf of the University.

The Law

A federal law related to commercial e-mail is now in effect. The “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003” or “CAN-SPAM Act of 2003” was signed into law in January 2004. This law will provide some relief from the ever-increasing amount of spam e-mail that we all receive.

One of the keys to this new law is that it applies to many types of e-mail messages and has very specific requirements for commercial e-mail that offers or promotes products or services. Upon review we have found that this law applies to a conside­rable amount of e-mail that is sent to recipients both on and off campus from CU-Boulder organizations and individuals. This law covers not only unsolicited commercial e-mail, but also electronic communications where the recipient has initiated the exchange. There are some exceptions for e-mail sent as a result of our transactional relationship (students, employees, vendors, etc.), however the exclusions are very specific and examples are detailed below.

In general we must ensure that we are truthful in addresses and subject descriptions and offer recipients an opportunity to decline from receiving future messages. It is important to remember that if an individual has opted out from receiving unsolicited commercial e-mail from CU-Boulder and is sent another e-mail message covered by this law, then the University can be fined up to $750 per unlawful message. To reduce the possibility of this occurring we have instituted policies and capabilities to comply with the law while minimizing the effect on the business of the University.

How it Affects You

Any individual, group, or organization (internal or external to CU-Boulder) that sends an e-mail on behalf of the University that promotes a commercial product or service is affected. Frequently as part of our normal course of business, e-mail messages are sent to faculty, staff, students, alumni, and others informing them of upcoming events and activities. If there is a charge for engaging in these activities or receiving services, then this new law is applicable. The law does not make a distinction between an electronic communication to a single recipient or a mass e-mail campaign. While the new law covers all commercial e-mail, there are specific requirements to provide notices and opt-out capability for specific types of e-mail messages.

What types of e-mail communications are subject to the notice and opt-out requirement?

Here are some examples of messages that would be affected by the new law:

  • Tickets for a play, movie or event where there is charge for admittance. It doesn’t matter whether the event is on or off our campus.
  • E-mail sent to student prospects. You must provide them with an opt-out notice, even if they have initiated the e-mail exchange.
  • An offer to sell computers, cars, furniture, or just about anything. This applies whether you are offering the items through your capacity at CU-Boulder or using your CU-Boulder e-mail account for personal use. If it is on behalf of the University, then CU-Boulder is considered the sender.
  • An external organization sending electronic e-mail on behalf of the University. For example a marketing or publishing company that sends an electronic newsletter or e-mails that contains any promotion for a commercial product or service such as an athletic event, play, or exhibit.
  • An e-mail that contains a web link to a CU-Boulder site that promotes a product or service. For example, a link to a CU-Boulder Web page that sells clothing. This would not apply if you were including a link to http://www.colorado.edu in a non-commercial e-mail message.

General Requirements for Commercial E-mail

  • Provide recipients with a clear and conspicuous opportunity to decline (opt-out) to receive further commercial e-mail messages from CU-Boulder. We can provide an opportunity for the recipient to specify the types of messages they decline to accept. In any case we must provide the capability for them to opt-out from all commercial e-mail from CU-Boulder. (This does not constitute opting out of all email from CU-Boulder, as e-mail is the official means of communication with our faculty and staff, and is protected for employee and academic communications.)
  • Include a fully functional and clearly displayed return e-mail address or other Internet-based mechanism to comply with the opt-out option described above.
  • Include the valid physical postal address of CU-Boulder. Post office boxes are not acceptable.
  • Subject lines and headers must be accurate. This applies to all e-mail.
  • The “from” line must be accurate. No anonymous, fictitious or misleading addresses are permitted.
  • A sample opt-out message below reflects best practices for communicating with University-affiliated audiences.

What types of electronic communications are not subject to notice or opt-out requirements?

If the e-mail is directly related to an employment or transactional relationship or is non-commercial in nature, then it is not affected. This is narrowly defined by the law and doesn’t provide for very much variance. Here are some examples that would be exempt from the new law:

  • Human resources sending e-mail directly related to benefit plans in which the recipient is currently involved, participating, or enrolled. An e-mail describing changes in benefits would be exempt, while an e-mail describing discounts for products or services would require the disclaimer.
  • Financial Aid sending e-mail related to loans and grants for which the student is either currently receiving or has applied for consideration.
  • An electronic message that details charges that are owed to the University.
  • Announcements of free events or services. If any money is collected, whether or not it is clearly indicated in the e-mail, it is covered by the law. Additional campus policies provide guidelines regarding the appropriate use of communication channels for events and services. 
  • An electronic newsletter sent by an external organization on behalf of CU-Boulder that does not contain any solicitation or advertisement of product or services.
  • While e-mail that is clearly not commercial in nature is exempt from the disclaimer, it may be prudent to offer individuals an opportunity to opt-out from your list. Of course this would not be applicable to e-mails that involve a transactional relationship.

How do you comply with the new law?

If your e-mail message meets the above criteria we have developed methods for both internal and external mailing. If in doubt, please call University Communications (303) 492-6431 and we will help you make the determination.

Sample opt-out notice

This message is being sent to you because of your affiliation with the University of Colorado Boulder. You can manage your email preferences AT THIS LINK.
Department/Unit, University of Colorado Boulder, Address, (303) XXX-XXXX