Canada’s New Anti-Spam Laws and You: How Kickstarter Creators Can Avoid $10 Million in Fines

1 June 2014 | 16 Comments

An alert reader in Canada contacted me this weekend to let me know about some important anti-spam laws going into effect in Canada on July 1 (the reader works for the organization that administers those laws, so he’ll remain anonymous here). These laws apply to any individual or business who sends electronic messages to Canadian residents. So, if you’re a Kickstarter creator, I’m talking to you.

I am not a lawyer, nor am I Canadian, so in addition to reading the key points I mention below, I would highly suggest looking over the anti-spam website and MailChimp’s excellent overview of the new law, from which I will quote here. As the subject line of this entry suggests, this is a big deal. There isn’t a single Kickstarter creator out there who could afford a $10 million fine.

There are a few different ways that Kickstarter creators communicate electronically:

  • project updates
  • group messages through Kickstarter or email
  • individual messages through Kickstarter or email

All of these are covered under the anti-spam law and thus require some form of consent from the recipient. Fortunately, the law grants automatic or implied consent for the following conditions that cover most of a Kickstarter’s communication from backers (these points are from the MailChimp article):

  • Sending to a family member or someone with whom you have an established personal relationship.
  • Responding to a customer or correspondence from the recipient within the previous six (6) months.
  • Providing information about an ongoing use, purchase, or other ongoing relationship.
  • Delivering product updates or upgrades.
  • The recipient has within the previous 24 months purchased a product or service from you.

That covers the majority of communication you’ll have with Kickstarter backers, especially thanks to those last 2 bullet points.

However, there are two areas you need to keep an eye out for–this is really important. The first is that you can’t autosubscribe backers (specifically, Canadian backers) to your e-newsletter, even if it’s easy for them to opt out. On your backer survey, you must include a question asking backers to opt into your e-newsletter.

The second is that there are new regulations in place for Canadian residents who sign up for your e-newsletter through your website. Here’s how you need to craft your e-newsletter signup for so it fits the new law:

  • Offer a clear description of what the person is signing up for (e.g., a monthly e-newsletter)
  • Include your name, your mailing address, and your e-mail address. (This one is the weirdest one to me–my mailing address? Come on, Canada.)
  • A statement indicating that the person may unsubscribe at any time (and the ability for them to do so on every mass e-mail they receive)

Make sense? Hopefully most creators have already been following these best practices for electronic communication, but if you’re like me, you probably need to update your e-newsletter subscription form.

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16 Comments on “Canada’s New Anti-Spam Laws and You: How Kickstarter Creators Can Avoid $10 Million in Fines

  1. As was stated above the EU has a set of laws regarding informed sign-up to mailing lists anyway, so this has little impact to us here, the laws got tightened up again in 2018 as well. What I find odd is the issue raised about not wanting to give out a mailing address, its UK law that there be a company address on your game box when you put it on open sale, so I’ve had a PO Box for that for a while now. Is there no such requirement for US games?

  2. Thanks for catching this and informing us Jamey! We have two businesses, one of which already has Canadian subscribers. We just updated our Mailchimp subscription email to include the appropriate information. We definitely can’t afford a $10 million fine!

  3. As a Canadian, I’d like to take a moment to apologize for my government going well beyond what would be deemed ‘reasonable’ with regards to email correspondence. I can understand that people on the whole are sloppy with their email / phone management, and many fall into that horrible category of “A little stupid and need protection from themselves”… but this is a kneejerk reaction. Many cable and phone companies got hit with a negative billing fiasco a few years back (they would bill you unless you contacted them and told them not to), and it’s only grown from there. You now can’t get email unless you explicitly requested it. You can’t get certain information unless you have requested it. Contacting people without their permission is bad. The government forced mail subscribers to give the option to opt-out, a Do Not Contact list, and it worked for legitimate businesses.

    Problem was, nobody cared. People loved it for a short time, companies hate it, then people stopped caring about it, and companies forgot. Nobody was listening, nobody was really following the Do Not Call / Do Not Contact lists. Complaints were made by people outraged that their privacy, their secure little email havens would receive these little “Dings” of new mail that THEY NEVER ASKED FOR (oh, the horror!), so they did what any fine Canadian did – they wrote a sternly worded letter to their member of parliament, kindly requesting they do something about it (we never really demand action, but we ask nicely if someone would think about maybe considering to possibly schedule a talk about taking some kind of action… but only if it wasn’t too much of a bother….)

    [/frustrated rant]
    Sorry. We have enough of a time dealing with our stupid customs laws, getting product here for a reasonable price, and now our government is stepping in to ensure that we don’t get email unless we’ve asked you to send it to us. Those who are doing what they’re supposed to should be OK (but inconvenienced), those who aren’t are going to stop receiving email. Businesses and people who send out lists are going to suffer some rather harsh fines…. and I fear we won’t be the last to go through this.

    1. Trevor: Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting to get the inside scoop about how this law was enacted. I don’t think the law is unreasonable (except for the mailing address part)–it seems like pretty standard elements of electronic communication best practices, and I’m glad someone is actually going to enforce them.

  4. Wow Jamey. Thanks very much for providing this information. As a game designer that is planning on running his first Kickstarter by the end of this year, this could have been a huge oversight that ended the company before it even started.

  5. It’s the same law which is in effect in the European Union for years now, which non European creators haven’t followed (after my own experience) so I think it’s very good that some US creators finally take up some responsibility!

    1. Hamsta: That’s really good to know! I’m guessing that most project creators have tried to stay in accordance with best practices for spam, but it’s good for us to know that there is a legal reason to do it as well.

    1. I should probably note, that like Canada’s law, most kickstarter updates would be considered “transactional” and therefore exempt. The main way the US law comes I to play is also with newsletters since they are “commercial”.

  6. Thank you VERY much for bringing this up. Since I am not currently using MailChimp, nor am I Canadian, I had no idea.
    Boy, that mailing address thing is a bit uncomfortable for me. I have a feeling that they are trying to give citizens the same level of security and sender information they would receive via snail mail.
    It’s still a little awkward :-/

    1. Thanks Derik! I’m grateful for the anonymous reader for bringing this topic to my attention so I could share it with other creators. Like you, I’m not comfortable with the mailing address thing. A possible solution is to sign up for a PO Box.

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