This weekend, my email in-box practically exploded under the weight of incoming queries, concerns, and mailer debates about two new US state email laws that have come up pretty much out of the blue.
On July 1st, new child protection email laws go into effect in both Michigan and Utah. I'm not a lawyer, but here's my rough take on the facts thus far.
-- Individuals who are minors (under 18) or who give minors access to their email accounts (i.e., parents) and live in UT or MI can add those email addresses to a registry in the appropriate state.
-- Institutions such as schools can add their entire domain to the registry.
-- No "commercial" emailer can send a message that contains anything illegal for kids to view or use to even a single recipient on those registries. This includes messages about alcohol, tobacco, porn, gambling, and prescription drugs.
-- Plus, your message can't hotlink to a Web page that contains info about anything illegal. So, if your link goes to USAToday.com and there's info about tobacco on that page, then you might be breaking the law. (This angle is what worries mailers the most.)
-- The laws are in effect regardless of whether you're a permission mailer. If an individual requests to be on your list, you still can't mail any illegal content to them nor link to any illegal content.
Both laws are fairly vaguely worded, leaving details open to interpretation. So knowing how to obey isn't easy. (Can you say "Bad Law?") And no one has any idea how forcefully the states will go about stopping mailers who mess up.
The key is, because of this vagueness, the laws at this time affect nearly every mailer in the US who either:
A) Mails content only suitable for adults, or
B) Hotlinks to a Web page that might contain an ad, an article or perhaps even just a hotlink to content that's only suitable for adults. (And some argue that could be Yahoo's home page, what with links to personals, etc.)
I'm working to put together a special report on these new laws for our next issue. This could be a hue and cry about nothing, or it could turn into a huge pain for otherwise legitimate mailers.
In the meantime, don't say I didn't warn you.
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