It’s likely that when you hear the word “spam,” you think of either the ubiquitous canned meat, or emails from Nigerian princes promising untold sums of money, just so long as you provide your bank account number for a wire transfer. Depending on the individual’s taste for SPAM®, a consumer might find both of these things distasteful, the latter particularly so.

Recently, the Canadian government got very serious about this and passed unprecedentedly strict laws governing spam, known as the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL). Legislators say the goal of the new law is to help protect Canadians while ensuring that businesses can continue to compete in the global marketplace. Marketers across the globe have had their eyes on this development for a while, and with good reason: It’s about to change the landscape of email marketing and various electronic communications in Canada.

It’s not just Canadians that have to take heed. Going forward, any company, regardless of nation, doing communications into Canada needs to abide, or faces repercussions from the new law—up to $1 million in fines for individuals found in violation, and up to $10 million for companies.

With the CASL’s global implications and an increasing concern on the consumer’s behalf about privacy protection online, the law is a big deal. If you’re doing business worldwide, this law, and others to be developed like it in the future are going to affect you. So what do you need to know?

Preparation and Action
In basic terms, CASL governs what it defines as commercial electronic messages (CEMs)—emails, text messages and other forms of electronic communications. It’s crunch time for preparedness, as one of the most important aspects of the law comes into effect July 1, 2014, doing away with the concept of “unrestricted implied consent.”

That means the Canadian recipients on your email list need to have provided express consent for you to email them; you must clearly identify yourself as the sender of the email; and you need to provide a way for recipients to unsubscribe from your list.

AKHIA Director of Digital Strategy Michael Schwabe says that marketers need to begin considering whether recipients fit into one of the acceptable categories to continue sending emails, or if they must further segment email lists by geography, followed by an opt-in strategy for any recipients in Canada. A large portion of your recipients may have already provided express consent if you’ve been following best practices—they may have signed up for emails through your website, for instance.

Importantly, there is a 36-month transitional period in which implied consent is exempt from the law. Implied consent is most often granted immediately after a customer makes a purchase from you. The exemption period allows you to work toward obtaining express consent during that time, while still being able to send emails to those recipients.

Chris Brown, director of interactive for Harbinger, a Toronto-based firm and member of the International Public Relations Network (IPRN) says many of his firm’s clients have been on high alert to ensure compliance with the new law. He also noted this strategy: get consent from everyone, period.

“While you may have implied consent from most of your contacts, implied consent can expire. It’s a lot easier to send an email requesting express consent from your email list, even if they may have already granted it, rather than combing through your entire list trying to figure out when each contact’s implied consent will expire.” Brown said. “It can become arduous from that perspective.”

Many email marketing programs make list segmentation and opt-in strategy easy to execute but it does require the effort of sorting your lists and deciding how you’ll craft the messaging requesting opt-in. You’ll need to be specific in this messaging, with a clearly defined clickable link that will allow recipients to say, “Yes, I wish to continue receiving emails.”

Not Just for Marketers
While email marketing campaigns may be the most identifiable subject of the new law, Brown notes that the law indeed affects more than just marketers. “The way the law was drafted, the scope is quite large,” he said. “Any business sending emails as a method for business or for communication is subject to the new law.”

Brown said that Harbinger has employed strategies to ensure that the firm is in compliance. Clients, prospects, and even media contacts—the law is broad enough that all are subject, should the recipient decide to lodge a complaint.

One of the most important things your organization can do to prepare for the July 1 deadline is to shout about CASL from the rooftops, across your organization.

Hopefully by now your relevant team leads for affected communications are aware of the law and its implications, but employees who aren’t regularly a part of e-communications may not be in the loop. It’s time to fix that, because ensuring compliance has the potential to have broad effects organization-wide, from workflow to process changes.

The Implications
The United States isn’t nearly as comprehensive or strict with its email spam legislation, but that’s something of an outlying situation. Europe has been tightening the screws, and not just on spam, but on being fully transparent when your website is collecting data through cookies or other tracking methods.

Proponents on both sides of the law have been active in their affirmation or dissent, with the latter claiming that the law will do little to curb actual spam messaging—the egregious spammers were never following the law or any sort of best practices in the first place. Additionally, it’s the businesses that have been acting ethically all along that will feel the effects of this broad legislation, requiring time, effort and money to conform.

On the other hand, businesses that have been following best practices shouldn’t have to overhaul their entire operations—opt-ins, clear identification, and unsubscribe links have been part of the game plan all along. Consumers will have less clutter in their inbox, and having opted in to receive your messaging, it’s much more likely that your email communications are hitting the right targets.

Brown notes that living under the new law will be a learning experience. The effects won’t be felt until after July 1—the date on which recipients will be able to report suspected violations to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), who will be enforcing the law. How the agency decides to enforce the law remains to be seen. “I think the world will be watching to see what happens with this law,” he said. “If corporations take this seriously, it becomes less about unsolicited communications, and more about talking to people who are genuinely interested in what you have to say, and that’s a good thing.”

AKHIA’s Schwabe echoed that sentiment. “This kind of legislation is more about being responsible marketers than anything,” he said. “What it does do, is force marketers to at least consider the possible repercussions and encourages them to be more open, honest and transparent in their communications.

“Hopefully, that’s never in question,” he continued. “But if it forces marketers to be more clear, succinct and accurate in their marketing, it can only end up being a win for the consumer.”