Review, rethink, reform

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TVs, textiles, appliances, and spam. That may sound like an eclectic shopping list at a big box retailer, but they’re clues to an FTC development you and your clients should know about.

They’re all categories affected by four rules the FTC is putting under the regulatory microscope: the Picture Tube Rule, the Textile Rules, the Energy Labeling Rule, and the CAN-SPAM Rule.

The FTC is taking steps to ensure that its rules and guides keep pace with technological advances while continuing the agency’s commitment to protecting consumers and promoting competition without unduly burdening business. You’ll want to read the FTC announcement for details, but here are thumbnail summaries.

Picture Tube Rule. On the books since 1966 and last reviewed in 2004, the Picture Tube Rule requires advertisers to base any representation about screen size on the horizontal measurement of the viewable area, unless they clearly disclose an alternative method of measurement. While the goal is to help consumers compare products, television technology has changed a lot. Is the Rule still needed? What are the costs and benefits? Take a look at the Advanced Notice for Public Rulemaking and let us know what you think.

Textile Rules. We’re also asking for public comment on a proposal to eliminate certain obsolete provisions of the Textile Labeling Rules. Rather than using a business name on the tag, one section allows a marketer to use a trademark as a “housemark” (a distinctive mark used to identify all a firm’s products), but only if it first registers the housemark with the FTC. That was the requirement circa 1959, but now people can identify trademark owners with an online search or a visit to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. Is it time to rethink that provision? Read the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for more information.

Energy Labeling Rule. Consumers use those yellow EnergyGuide labels on appliances to help compare the energy cost of competing models. Last year the FTC sought public comment on proposed changes to the Rule and people offered their feedback. So we’re updating the Energy Labeling Rule to eliminate obsolete markings on plumbing products, exempt certain ceiling fans from labeling requirements, and update the labels to cover electric instantaneous water heaters.

CAN-SPAM Rule. We’re also taking a fresh look at the CAN-SPAM Rule, which requires that commercial email contain accurate header and subject lines, identify itself as an ad, include a valid physical address, and offer recipients a way to opt out of future messages. Have consumers benefited from the Rule? What are the costs of compliance? Should it be modified to account for technological or economic changes? The Request for Public Comments includes directions for filing your feedback.

Further streamlining may be in store as the FTC continues to conduct its systematic review of rules and guides.

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