Effective today, spam that contains sexually-oriented material must include the warning “SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT: ” in the subject line or face fines for violations of federal law. The CAN-SPAM Act, passed by Congress in 2003, directed the Federal Trade Commission to adopt a rule requiring a mark or notice to be included in spam that contains sexually-oriented material. The final rule follows the intention of the CAN-SPAM Act to protect email recipients from unwitting exposure to unwanted sexual images in spam, by requiring this mark to be included both in the subject line of any e-mail message that contains sexually-oriented material, and in the electronic equivalent of a “brown paper wrapper” in the body of the message. This “brown paper wrapper” is what a recipient initially will see when opening a message containing sexually- oriented material. The “brown paper wrapper” will include the prescribed mark or notice, certain other specified information, and no other information or images. Spammers who fail to comply with the rule and the corresponding portion of the CAN-SPAM Act face civil lawsuits, as well as civil and criminal penalties, including imprisonment and fines up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for organizations. (Staff contact is Jonathan Kraden, Bureau of Consumer Protection, 202-326-3257; see press release issued April 13, 2004.)
Copies of the Rule are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.