What’s the Difference? U.S. CAN-SPAM vs. Canada’s Anti-Spam Law

There are two important pieces of legislation directly affecting marketers. The CAN-SPAM Act is the United State’s legislation directing email marketers about what they can and cannot send. The Canadian Anti-Spam Law, (CASL), is – you guessed it Canada’s legislation telling email marketers to whom they can and cannot send.

For the most part, CAN-SPAM rules are well known to email marketers. CASL regulations can be a bit trickier, and they’ll only be more challenging to implement once this law takes effect July 1, 2014. Moreover, it can be confusing for email marketers to keep track of the different aspects of each piece of legislation.

In that light, here’s a quick Q&A-style cheat sheet covering the main differences between CAN-SPAM and CASL.

1. What issues is it meant to address?

CAN-SPAM: It addresses email spamming.

CASL: It addresses a range of Internet issues including email, spyware, pharming, and other online spamming vehicles.

2. What does it apply to?

CAN-SPAM: These regulations only apply to sending email.

CASL: These regulations apply to all forms of electronic messages such as email, SMS, IM, social media, etc.

3. Is the scope of the legislation broad or narrow?

CAN-SPAM: Specific scope – You can’t send commercial messages without permission, but you can send transactional messages or relationship-related messaging without permission.

CASL: Broad scope – The law doesn’t specifically define what a commercial message is, but you can’t send any emails to a subscriber without first gaining his or her express consent. If you’re in a business relationship with a subscriber, you may send him or her emails without their consent, but only for two years. During that time, you must gain express consent to send emails to him or her.

4. Is there a certain amount of commercial content that can or can’t be sent?

CAN-SPAM: You are allowed to send unsolicited commercial email. However, most email service providers – including WhatCounts – do not allow you to send this.

CASL: No matter the amount of commercial content in the email, you cannot send it without first gaining a subscriber’s permission.

5. What are the list-building practices it supports?

CAN-SPAM: You can technically email anyone without his or her permission, although again, most email service providers won’t allow this. If someone opts out, you must honor it within a certain time period.

CASL: Effective July 1, 2014, every Canadian email address on your list must have opted in.


Hopefully, this list has given you a clearer perspective of these anti-spam legislations. If you’re still not sure how CAN-SPAM and CASL apply to your email marketing, you can download our comprehensive (and free) resources on these topics.

Your guide to U.S. CAN-SPAM legislation.


Your ultimate guide to learn about CASL.

Your safest bet is to follow permission-based email marketing, where all your subscribers have opted in to receive your emails. When you do this, you’ll be following these anti-spam regulations, and you’ll be making your subscribers happy by sending them content they’ve asked for. Win-win!

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl


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