As we move to deliver more of our communications via electronic channels, it’s timely to remember that mass-mailing emails are likely be governed by the Commonwealth Spam Act 2003 (a truly wonderful name for a piece of legislation – it always makes me think of a Monty Python skit).
Many University departments send electronic newsletters and invitations to events through email. Many of these will fall into the category of emails that are covered by the Act, because they would be classified as commercial emails.
A commercial email is defined in section 6 of the Act. If one of the purposes of the email is:
- to offer to supply goods or services; or
- to advertise or promote goods or services;
Therefore invitations to University events, and any newsletter that promotes courses or services offered by the University would be classified as commercial emails. Note that it’s not even required that a cost be attached to the goods or services. It’s also not required that there be a mass mailing – a commercial email need only be sent to one person to be covered by the Act.
To comply with the Act, all commercial emails must:
- have the consent of all recipients, and
- include information about the individual or organisation who authorised the sending of the email, and
- contain a functional unsubscribe facility.
These are actually good rules to follow for all mass-mailing emails, regardless of whether they are technically defined as commercial emails.
The issue of consent is dealt with in Schedule 2 of the Act. Basically all recipients must have either expressly consented to being sent the email or given their implied consent through their conduct and the business and other relationships they have with the individual or organisation that sent the email.
The information about the sender who authorised the email can be as simple as a line of text. For example, "This email sent by xxx of the faculty of xxx within the University of Sydney" plus accurate, current contact details for the sender. It could even just use the University logo as long as the accurate, current contact information is also included.
A ‘functional unsubscribe facility’ means that the recipient can both send an unsubscribe request and actually be removed from the mailing list so that they don’t receive any similar commercial emails sent from that area of the University. It doesn't have to be an automatic process, it can be as simple as a link to an email address so that a recipient can tell the sender that they wish to unsubscribe – that is, no longer receive similar emails from the sender. The sender can then manually remove that recipient from their email list.
The University is exempt from including the functional unsubscribe facility but only if either or both of the following subparagraphs applies:
- the recipient is, or has been, enrolled as a student at the University, or
- a member or former member of the household of the recipient is, or has been, enrolled as a student at the University.
If the email is sent to any other person, it is a breach of the Act. It is simply safer (and more polite) to include the unsubscribe in all mass emails.