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The European Union Harmonizes Direct E-Mail Marketing Laws

The EU Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communication harmonizes the rules on direct e-mail marketing in the European Union. These rules cover all types of sales promotions. The three main requirements for compliance are:

1. Prior Consent

Prior permission from the recipient must be obtained before any e-mail marketing messages or unsolicited commercial e-mail communication can be sent. Companies and organizations of all types, including charities and political organizations doing fund-raising, are covered by the rules. It is against the law to send e-mail messages to individuals without prior consent.

Exception: Existing Customer Relationships

The only exception to this rule is if there is an existing customer relationship. It is permissible to send e-mail marketing messages to existing customers if the e-mail address was obtained in the context of a sale and if the message is about similar products or services by the same company as long as the customer has not initially refused to receive messages. An explicit opt-out option must be offered at the time the e-mail address is collected and also with every message sent.

E-mail marketing to legal entities such as companies or organizations (in other words, B2B e-mail marketing) is allowed without explicit permission. However, every message must still include clear opt-out instructions for stopping future messages easily and free of charge.

2. Identity of the Sender

The e-mail messages must identify the sender. Disguising the actual identity of the sender is prohibited.

3. Opt-Out Instructions

Every e-mail marketing message must include a valid return address and include instructions on how to unsubscribe (opt out) easily and free of charge.

These requirements apply to all commercial and direct e-mail marketing messages sent over EU networks. The European Union member states can implement stricter opt-in requirements in their national legislation. For example, member states can also require opt-in for B2B communication.

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