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The one-click unsubscribe law (sometimes referred to as the “one-step unsubscribe rule”) is part of CAN-SPAM. The CAN-SPAM unsubscribe rules include that a recipient be able to effectuate their opt-out with a one-click unsubscribe, whether that is by replying to the email or by visiting a single web page. The one-click unsubscribe law is part of our Federal law, and so applies to any and all mailing lists and mailing list email.

CAN-SPAM is the Federal law governing email marketing in the United States, and so the email marketing unsubscribe law, which is part of CAN-SPAM, applies to anyone within the U.S. who sends email marketing or other bulk (i.e. one-to-many) email, and part of that email opt-out law is that senders must provide their recipients with a single-click opt-out method. Here’s what the law actually says:

Text of the One-Click Unsubscribe Law

§ 316.5 Prohibition on charging a fee or imposing other requirements on recipients who wish to opt out.

    Neither a sender nor any person acting on behalf of a sender may require that any recipient pay any fee, provide any information other than the recipient’s electronic mail address and opt-out preferences, or take any other steps except sending a reply electronic mail message or visiting a single Internet Web page, in order to:

    (a) Use a return electronic mail address or other Internet-based mechanism, required by 15 U.S.C. 7704(a)(3), to submit a request not to receive future commercial electronic mail messages from a sender; or

    (b) Have such a request honored as required by 15 U.S.C. 7704(a)(3)(B) and (a)(4).

(If you’re a law or policy geek, you may want to read the original source here.)

So let’s tease this apart. First, don’t be distracted by the “Prohibition on charging a fee” in the first part of the title of the section. While of course it’s true that you cannot charge someone a fee to remove them from your mailing list, that’s not what we’re talking about right now and besides, you wouldn’t do that, would you?

The part that we want to focus on for this discussion is the “imposing other requirements on recipients who wish to opt out.” Specifically, the CAN-SPAM Federal law requires that anybody who wishes to be removed from your mailing list be able to do so in one step. That one step can be replying to your email, however in this day and age very few businesses run an email list where someone can opt out by simply replying.

It’s easier to parse if we remove the extraneous parts, which leaves us with no “sender may require that any recipient take… any other steps except sending a reply …or visiting a single Internet Web page.”

Now, no matter how you slice it and dice it, when a subscriber clicks on an unsubscribe link and is confronted with a log in page because they have to log into their account in order to unsubscribe, that violates the “visiting a single Internet Web page” in order to opt out” requirement of the law (hence it being known as the “one-click unsubscribe law”).

The law is very, very clear on this (surprisingly so, given how often law is anything but clear). And yet, many – oh so many – companies are in violation of this part of our Federal email marketing law, even though it’s one of the easiest requirements with which to comply!

So why do so many companies fail to comply with this part of CAN-SPAM? Perhaps it’s because they genuinely don’t know what the law requires. Or perhaps they know what the law requires, but they don’t care because retaining people on their email list is more important to them (how many times have you been confronted with having to log in to unsubscribe, couldn’t remember your password, and decided that you can’t be bothered to do a password reset, and so never finalized your unsubscribe request?)

If you are an email sender reading this, we hope that this has clarified things for you (and we hope that you are already following the law!) If you are an email recipient who is frustrated by a company that is not following the law, you can take out your frustration by reporting them at spam@uce.gov.

(To read our knowledge resource on this topic see A One-Step Unsubscribe is Required by Federal Law.)


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