The legal basics
At dotMailer we insist that our clients comply with all relevant laws when using our products to manage their email campaigns. That protects both of us.
That sounds stern - but it's actually very straightforward. Three things to remember about the law before you start:
It's not draconian - in fact you might be able to do more than you thought whilst still being compliant;
It's there because people hate receiving spam. So breaking it is only going to upset your customers and potential customers anyway;
It's black and white, with very few tricky grey areas, and it's not 'constantly changing'.
Laws are not standardised across Europe - indeed, the UK has slightly more liberal regulations than, say, Germany. For the purposes of this overview, we'll concentrate on UK law.
The commercial nature of your message must be clear to the recipient from the outset
You must not conceal or disguise the origin of the message
You must give a valid unsubscribe address. Although it's inconvenient for all concerned, a postal address IS valid legally
Recipients of your email must have OPTED IN to receive it.
There are two exceptions to this last 'opt-in' rule:
You can promote your business products (only) to employees of a Limited Company.
If an individual has bought (or negotiated to buy) something from you, and provided their email address for this, you can promote SIMILAR goods and services to them. Note - you do not have to actually make the sale.
You must supply a valid and free opt-out mechanism.
'Forward to a Friend' and viral emails
We get asked about this a lot. Here are the basics:
You must make clear that the recipient should forward the email only to people who he/she thinks will be happy to receive it
If you offer a personal incentive for people to forward the email, and it's subsequently sent to people who are unhappy to receive it, then you are liable as the instigator of that email.
You cannot ask a recipient to provide you with other people's email addresses, unless you have the specific consent of those individuals - whether directly to you or via the original recipient.
For this reason, to protect you under the Data Protection Act, dotMailer will not give you the email addresses of 'friends' who an email has been forwarded to.
Ask a recipient if they mind you PASSING THEIR DETAILS to a third party organisation to promote their products, and then if they agree pass on their details.
Ensure that the third party is reputable and complies with the law (eg with unsubscribes etc).
Send genuine business-related emails to your existing customers, or to people who have previously left their details with you when making a sales enquiry, provided the email is about a similar product.
Treat competitions etc., as an 'opt in' way of building a mailing list - recipients must specifically say that they are opting in to receive promotional emails
Claim that a recipient has opted-in if you cannot provide evidence of that fact. Note - this applies if you purchase lists from third parties. It is your responsibility to check the source of the list.
Appoint a data protection officer to be responsible for your compliance with the law.