Spam laws in California

Glenn W. Peterson

Spam is when someone sends an email to a person who has not asked to receive it and who has no established relationship with the sender. The California legislature has enacted a law to ensure that consumers are protected against spam. Anyone found breaking this law can be sued by anyone they send spam to, as well as by the Attorney General or email providers involved. Violators may be charged with a misdemeanor and may face up to six months in jail, along with being ordered to pay fines, fees and/or restitution.

To further identify spam, the state legislature defines what cannot be included in an email. This includes misleading subject lines, the unauthorized use of a third party’s domain name and false header information. The law makes it illegal to send or receive this type of electronic mail in the state. In addition, it is against the law to create email accounts for the sole reason of sending these illegal messages or to collect email addresses online for the purpose of sending them.

While the law seeks to protect consumers, it does raise concerns for those legitimately using email for marketing purposes. As explained by imedia, anyone sending mail to a recipient in California is bound by this law, even if they are not located in the state. The state’s spam laws are more specific than those at the federal level, and senders are required to comply with both sets of laws, which can lead to confusion. For example, the California specifications regarding email headers, which requires the “from” line to include the sender’s registered domain name, may trip up senders because this is not part of the federal law.