California’s Anti-Spam Laws

In recent years, consumers have received numerous emails from merchants, all trying to sell a service or a product. While marketing and commercial activity is central to the American economy, the recipients of these emails must also enjoy their privacy. In an effort to protect against these disruptive emails, the California Legislature passed anti-spam laws in order to regulate commercial email activity. In addition, a recent district court opinion further clarified the types of emails that are implicated by these statutory standards.

What Are California’s Anti-Spam Laws?

In general, California’s anti-spam laws are codified under Business & Professions Code sections 17529 et seq. First, commercial email advertisements must come from a domain name registered to the sender. Commercial email advertisements include any email sent for the specific purpose of selling or advertising a product or service. The purpose of these laws is to limit promotional emails with false or misleading subject information. These laws apply to any U.S.-based company that sends emails to California consumers. It does not matter whether the sender is located in California. In fact, it may not even matter whether the sender knew the recipient was in California. Furthermore, California’s anti-spam laws provide a greater degree of protection than their federal equivalent—i.e., Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 (“CAN-SPAM”). For example, CAN-SPAM requires that each email contain an “opt-out” option that allows consumers to quickly unsubscribe from future emails. The sender must comply with such a request within ten business days. In California, there are no such requirements. Indeed, the recipient can collect these emails and sue the sender for up to $1,000 per email.  So, the charges can quickly add up. If the sender of commercial emails is faced with a lawsuit, it bears the burden of proving that it was in compliance with both the state and federal standards.

What Did the Court Find in Bontrager v. Showmark Media, LLC, et al.?

In Bontrager v. Showmark Media, LLC, et al., the United States District Court for the Central District of California clarified the meaning of a “misleading subject line” under California’s anti-spam law. The plaintiff, Nicholas Bontrager, sued Showmark Media, LLC alleging that the merchant sent over 10,000 emails with misleading subject lines. The subject lines to these emails suggested that Bontrager had won an award. The presiding judge granted the motion to dismiss, holding that the subject lines would not deceive a reasonable consumer. The subject lines at issue stated “Lawyer Media, Top Lawyers in California.” The body of the email contained details of a commemorative plaque that the reader could purchase. The court held that while at a glance the subject lines suggested the reader was being recognized in the legal industry, the subject lines were consistent with the body of the emails. Therefore, there was no violation of California’s anti-spam laws because there were no misleading subject lines. Indeed, the subject line did not suggest that plaintiff would earn a reward simply by opening and reading the email.

You may contact us to speak with a knowledgeable attorney to discuss whether the emails you receive have violated state or federal anti-spam laws and the applicable remedies.