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Janet Roberts

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like ...
By Janet Roberts

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No, not Christmas. Now that the dust is has settled from the furious round of Congressional voting on the CAN-SPAM Act last week, it looks as if Americans will have a federal spam law on the books by the time Champagne corks start popping on Jan. 1.

Is this cause for celebration? It depends on whether you're a spammer, a legitimate email publisher, an ISP or a recipient. It does mean you have less than a month to read the law and find out what you have to do to comply.

The bill's approval also is not a done deal yet. There are lots of "ifs" from here to enactment, too.

However, if you are not sending unsolicited email, falsifying your name, sending address or subject line, harvesting email addresses off the Web or generating names randomly to build your list, and if you include a working opt-out in each message, you're okay.

If you rushed into action with your newsletter or marketing programs in order to head off any potential problems, you can probaby take a breather now, too.

Our Story So Far

In the rush of voting on major legislation before the Thanksgiving recess, the House of Representatives voted 392-5 to approve its amended version of the Senate bill popularly known as the CAN-SPAM Act and sent it back to the Senate.

The Senate agreed to the amended version but made a couple of changes and sent it back to the House, which is expected to take it up the week of Dec. 8.

Now for the "ifs:"

If the House okays the bill, it will go on to President Bush, who had said previously he favored the bill. If he signs it before Dec. 31, it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2004.

If something happens between now and then to prevent Bush from signing the bill, the new California spam law that has publishers quaking will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Right to Sue and Do-Not-Spam

In the last Ezine-Tip, we promised you ways to avoid running into problems with the California law should it go into effect. We're going to put that on hold until we see what happens in Washington.

In the meantime, you can review the latest amended version of CAN-SPAM using THOMAS, the legislative information service. Type "S 877" into the blank marked "Bill Number" and hit Search. Then, read the fifth version, marked S.877.EAS.

If you don't want to wade through all that tiny type, Declan McCullough distilled the amendments into an excellent story for CNet's

The federal legislation targets deceptive and fraudulent email, rather than the sheer volume of junk email, and gives the Federal Trade Commission and law-enforcement agencies a stronger hand in dealing with the most unrepentant spammers.

On one hand, it helps email publishers by removing what in the California law seemed to scare publishers most: the individual right of action, which would have allowed individuals to sue email senders for violating the law. Only government officials and ISPs, in some case, can sue under the federal law.

That fear appeared to have motivated several email publishers either to suspend their newsletters, request readers to opt in again or stop emailing to anyone who gave either a California address or who didn't specify their states when they signed up for subscriptions.

But, CAN-SPAM also directs the FTC to come up with a plan for implementing and creating a do-not-spam registry, similar to the do-not-call list for telemarketers, within six months after the bill becomes law.

Although Sen. Charles Shumer, D-New York, who promoted the spam list, says it will happen, FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris doesn't think it will work. If I had to lay odds, I'd back the bureaucrat.

What to Do Now

Make sure your unsubscribe link works! That's a key factor in the federal legislation.

When our company changed its name and email addresses, I had to change or drop 752 subscriptions. I changed email addresses on 341 of them and dropped the rest. (Not as easy as it sounds.)

Of that 341, I got confirmations on 271. I've received 78 notices from publishers whose systems retained the old address after I either updated or unsubscribed.

Ezine-Tips for December 02, 2003

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