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August 21, 2014

How CASL, Canada’s New Spam Law, Impacts US Businesses

On July 1, 2014, Canada passed epic legislation dramatically regulating emails sent or received by a Canadian system. Even if your business is based in the US, if you’re at all involved in email marketing, there is most certainly an impact. And lacking education won’t be a defence if you’re caught breaking the rules of the mandate.

One of the biggest challenges of this new legislation, however, is its ambiguity. Like many things written in legalese, it’s difficult to decipher the actual parameters of the law. I’ll do my best to shed light on Canada’s strict new communications policy, and then explore how companies across the globe are impacted.

What is CASL?

CASL stands for the “Canadian anti-spam legislation’, and it targets just about any electronic communication. It regulates CEMs, or “commercially electronic messages.” What do these entail? If you read the letter of the law, it involves all of the following:

  • Email
  • Text
  • Voicemail
  • Infographics, if sent to an inbox
  • Any images sent for marketing purposes

Think in terms of “pushed content” – communications sent to a user without their express, individual consent.

If it sounds a bit like CAN-SPAM, you’re only partially correct. CAN-SPAM is the anti-spam US law that requires an opt-out for commercially electronic messages to be sent. This means anyone can end up on email lists without consent, but they must be able to easily opt-out. CASL, on the other hand, is much stricter. It’s an opt-in policy requiring individuals to actually consent to communications before anything is sent. There are limited “implied consent” exceptions to this requirement too. Additionally, CASL spells out strict guidelines to any content sent to a Canadian as well.

Another difference between CASL and CAN-SPAM are the repercussions. A violation of CASL results in the highest anti-spam fees in the entire world – $1 million for an individual, and $10 million for a business. Don’t assume that if you’re CAN-SPAM compliant, you’re covered with CASL- they are vastly different.

Debunking CASL Myths

If you believe you’re safe from CASL fines due to any of the following defences, you’re believing a fallacy that could cost you millions. These myths include:

  • Assuming that CASL only affects Canadian businesses. Alas, it impacts the whole world. The law clearly states that any commercially electronic message sent either from a Canadian server/system or to a Canadian-based inbox is bound by the law. So even if you’re based in the US, if you have a single Canadian email address in your mailing list, the law applies to your marketing.
  • Assuming that because you target only US businesses, you don’t need to research the law. Ignorance is not a defence. As mentioned above, even if you have just one customer based in Canada, you must adhere to the law. This means knowing your list’s geographical location is imperative.
  • Thinking that because you send newsletters, images, sound bites, videos, or text messages, you’re not impacted. Not so. The law covers all electronic communications, not just emails. If you’re marketing by any means to users, CASL is regulating what you send to Canada.
  • Arguing that B-to-B businesses aren’t mandated is also a fallacy. The term “commercial” in regards to messages covers anything that involves an intended profit. Obviously, businesses targeting other businesses are focused on profits too. Marketing across the board is therefore affected.

Other Critical Elements of CASL

CASL cares about two core elements of commercial marketing:

  1. If a user has proactively opted-in to your communications.
  2. That the content itself matches what the opt-in agreement encapsulated. CASL regulates the content by requiring strict guidelines around opting-out and corporate identifications.

Even if your commercial messaging, i.e. your sell tactics, make up a small portion of a given communication, CASL has a say. That can be as simple as a link to your website. Additionally, if you send an unsolicited email to someone asking them to opt-in to your emails, it’s not allowed. They must choose to receive your communications through some other means.

As you examine your lists to ensure you’re compliant, you need to keep in mind two things as well:

  1. If you don’t know where geographically an address resides, you need to validate that information before you can legally email them.
  2. Knowing exactly how they opted-in is also essential; if you don’t know the direct path, it’s very risky to send communications up north.

This is just as crucial if you rent lists. From now on, you need to make sure list partners also have tangible evidence of geographic locations and opt-in assurance. In this case, it’s best to just not rent anything with Canadians at all, as most organizations cannot substantiate the above to any legal certainty.

It comes down to this: Canada does not want spam, at all, ever, from any nation. And they’re going to great lengths to protect their citizens. You either need to choose to omit our neighbors to the north from your efforts, or to study CASL and comply. Just don’t ignore the buzz because you think you’re immune. Chances are, your company is impacted. Assuming you don’t have $10 million to waste, it’s time to take action.

Has CASL affected your marketing efforts? What steps have you taken to follow the requirements?


Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Visit My Google+ Profile