Deena Fischer

E-Business Law Group / Just1Group - Managing Partner/ Principal and CEO
Yardley, PA

    Why You Care About California's Laws, Even If You're Not In California

    March 11, 2009

    In case you didn't know, I take requests.  I'm always looking for new ideas for blog posts both here at STS and on my legal blog

    So, this one comes to you thanks to our very own Angela Jia Kim...

    I was talking to Angela one evening and was telling her that people don't realize how very careful they need to be about emailing the lists of people who give them information on their website. 

    After I had spent some time explaining why, Angela insisted that all of the women of STS needed to know what I had told her.  And (of course) she's right.

    The first thing I'm going to tell you is that the State of California has very strict SPAM laws. 

    Stop shaking your head. 

    I know not everyone lives in California.

    Do you collect email addresses on your website?  Do you have a newsletter?  Do you send deals and other information to your list?

    If so, you care.  Trust me, you do.

    And here's why. 

    Under California Business & Professions Code § 17529.5, the State of California gives a private right of action to consumers who receive unsolicited commercial emails with falsified header information, containing a third party's web address without that third party's permission or with a misleading subject line. And it's a $1,000 hit per email.

    Let me say that again.

    California residents who receive an email from you that doesn't comply with the law can sue you in small claims court for $1,000 PER EMAIL. And what they have to prove to be successful is minimal. You have the burden of proving that you complied with the law.

    Assuming that you did nothing wrong, you'd still have to defend all of those suits.  That includes flying to California, staying in a hotel and other associated costs.  And that's if you win. 

    Well, couldn't you just ignore the suits then? What's the worst that could happen?

    The worst that could happen if you didn't defend is that you could be found liable in all of those suits. And that adds up. Fast.

    Let's say that your database had only 1,000 email addresses. And since there are 50 states, let's assume that the email addresses were evenly distributed (which, of course, they're not). So that makes only 20 email addresses in California.

    No big deal, right?

    At $1,000 per email, that's $20,000. What if you had 2,000 email addresses? Or 5,000? Or even 10,000?

    Are you starting to see how this could really ruin your day?

    So, how should you protect yourself?

    First, making sure that everyone opts in to your list is key.  Also, make sure you have an unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email and a physical mailing address that consumers can use to opt out as well.  And, whatever you do, PLEASE make sure you honor those opt-out requests as soon as possible.

    If you have questions about SPAM or any other small business matter, feel free to contact me here, through my website or on my legal café here at STS.  And make sure to check my legal blog for more small business topics.




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