There’s a new rule book coming out for all digital marketers. It strikes at the core of many of the most common online marketing activities (like e-mail marketing), setting strict standards in the fight against unsolicited commercial messages.

This new set of guidelines is being bound right here in Canada. This rule book is known as CASL, aka Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation aka FISA – Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act (or for those really wanting to get technical, “Bill C-28”). Since this new proposal received Royal Assent in 2010, it has slowly but surely popped up on the radar of many marketers. However, many still remain in the dark about the profound effect this new legislation will have on online marketing activities. CASL warrants the attention of marketers, especially so they don’t get blindsided when it takes effect.

Why do I care?

The new law isn’t merely making suggestions at what should or should not be done. It actually carries a powerful punch in regards to the penalties that can be sought out for violators. Anyone can bring a lawsuit against a sender for a maximum penalty of $1 million in the case of an individual or $10 million in the case of a corporation. So, maybe if you’ve got millions of dollars hidden under your office desk, you don’t need to pay attention to this law, but I suspect for most marketers it’s a lot more cost effective to wise up and pay attention to the new rules.

Although the legislation is Canadian-based, it’s not a law that exclusively focuses on Canadians. Any “consumer electronic message” (abbreviated to “CEM”) that is accessed using a Canadian device is under the jurisdiction of CASL. This means that even if a completely American-based entity sends out a newsletter, if that is received by people using Canadian devices, then CASL is in full effect.

When does it take effect?

CASL will be enforced as of July 1, 2014. It’s been a long time coming, having received Royal Assent in December 2010. The reason for the delay is largely due to the complexity of the legislation. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of broad changes, and lots of opinions coming out of the second draft of the regulation that was published in January 2013.

What are the key highlights?

The current legislation is long, really long. If you want to read it in its entirety, you can see it online here. The government is attempting to make this legislation incredibly comprehensive, but here are some of the key highlights:

* Consent, Consent, Consent… and more rules about consent. A key focus of CASL is detailing the exact ways you can acquire consent to send CEMs. Moreover, it makes consent an absolute requirement in most scenarios.

* When obtaining consent, it must be an affirmative action. This means you cannot pre-check a form field to obtain legitimate consent.

* Your message must have a working unsubscribe mechanism.

* Unsubscribes cannot be confirmed. So, there is no sending of “Are you sure you want to unsubscribe?” e-mails.

* No misleading or false subject lines or sender names. Essentially, you cannot hide who you are and must make it very clear.

* Must include a valid physical postal mailing address and one additional form of contacting the sender, which could be a Web form, email address or phone number.

* When sending on behalf of another organization, all organizations must be identified.

* If you send an initial e-mail to someone based on a referral, the person who made the referral must be stated in the message.

When should I start preparing?

While the new legislation isn’t going to be in effect for some time still, the truth is that the sooner you start preparing the better. In short, there’s no time like the present to take a good long look at your digital communication practices (for most organizations, the cornerstone of this is email marketing). Although the new rule book has not been set in stone, the underlying concepts are structured well enough that any marketer can take immediate action.

Plus, if you start taking the right steps today, you can do so calmly without being in a panic situation when CASL takes effect. Better to be ahead of the curve on this one!

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