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What Are The Legal Rules for Email Marketing?

Email marketing laws govern when and to who marketing emails can be sent, as well as the content of the email. Email marketing laws must be strictly complied with because in Australia there are strict penalties if you breach them.

One of the most effective strategies in marketing is email marketing, which is a great way to provide value to your customers. It helps you to position your business as the leading expert in the industry. It also allows your existing and potential customers to get to know you better and trust your brand more.

Moreover, email marketing facilitates a high rate of conversion, which means increased revenue generation. However, at times, your efforts to reach potential customers can run the risk of breaching the law.

That is why you need to understand the laws that apply to email marketing. You need to ensure that your marketing campaigns do not:

  • breach the Spam Act
  • contain content that is misleading or deceptive
  • breach the Privacy Act

In this article, our eCommerce lawyer will discuss the legal rules for email marketing in detail.

How is spam relevant to email marketing laws?

‘Spam’ is the commonly used term for promotional emails sent to those customers who have not requested them.

If your business practices email marketing, you must ensure that you comply with the Australian Spam Law. This can be particularly relevant for businesses that conduct large-scale or automated marketing campaigns that have the potential to reach a large audience.

Australian Laws on Email Marketing

The legislation on spam in Australia is the Spam Act 2003 (Cth), which governs when and how businesses can engage in email marketing. If you do not meet specific requirements, the Spam Act can prohibit you from sending out electronic messages where:

  • an Australian link is included
  • one of the purposes or the primary purpose of the message is commercial (i.e. to make money

Each of these points is explained below.

Australian Link

An electronic message, such as an email, text, or Whatsapp message, is considered to be an ‘Australian link’ if at least one of the following points is met in relation to the message:

  • the message originated from Australia
  • if an entity within Australia controls the sender or the person that has authorised the message to be sent, and that entity is physically present in Australia or its central management and control is in Australia when the message was sent
  • the computer, server or device that is used to access the message is located in Australia
  • the electronic account holder is physically present in Australia or the organisation carries out business activities in Australia when the message is accessed
  • if the message is unable to be delivered because the relevant electronic address no longer exists, it is reasonably likely that the message would have been accessed using a computer, server or device in Australia
email marketing spam act

Commercial Message

Commercial messages refer to those messages, which are sent with the purpose of either:

  • offering to supply goods or services
  • advertising or promoting goods or services, or
  • advertising or promoting a supplier of goods or services

This is usually determined by how the message is presented, what the content is, and if the content is accessible via links.

Even if the purpose of the message is not primarily a commercial purpose, but a secondary purpose, the Spam Act will still apply.

The Legal Rules for Email Marketing

The Spam Law in Australia is designed to stop businesses from spreading spam that can intrude on an individual’s privacy. That is why, if you are an email marketer, you must be aware of the 3 legal rules for email marketing:


You must first get the permission of your customers if you want to send them email marketing. This consent can be express (“I give my consent”) or it can be inferred.

For example, when customers ‘opt-in’ to receive emails from your business, it is referred to as express consent. This means that the customer has explicitly given their consent for you to send them email marketing by entering their email and clicking ‘subscribe’.

On the other hand, whether or not your customer has given implied consent to receive email marketing will depend on the circumstances. You need to assess your relationship with your customer and whether a reasonable person in the circumstances would consider that the customer has impliedly given their consent to receive email marketing.

For instance, if a customer holds a gym membership, it may be inferred that he or she may be interested in receiving marketing messages related to the gym. In either case, you must keep a detailed record of when and how you obtained the consent of those customers in your email list.

Identifying the sender

The emails that you send to your customers must contain explicit sender details so that the recipients can contact you or your business effortlessly. In every message, you must include your registered trading name and your contact information like phone number, address, email address, etc. You can either use your name and ABN or the correct legal name of your business.

Furthermore, the information provided must be easy to access, clear and concise, and remain accurate for at least 30 days after the message has been sent.

Otherwise, you might end up breaching the Spam Act. In case you allow someone else to send the emails on your behalf, make sure that the messages still identify you as the business that authorised them.

Unsubscribe/Opt-Out Options

You must always provide the recipients of your promotional emails the option to opt-out at any point in time. In addition, you must include a clear and straightforward way of unsubscribing from your emails. You must also ensure that the privacy functionality on your website is user-friendly to future-proof the digital presence of your organisation.

The opt-out option that you provide in your message must remain functional for no less than 30 days from sending the message. Moreover, you cannot charge your customer a fee for processing an opt-out. Also, if any recipient requests to unsubscribe, you must remove that subscriber from your commercial electronic messages list within 5 business days of sending the request.

An eCommerce lawyer can provide expert guidance on unsubscribe features and requirements.

Consequences of Not Complying With the Email Marketing Laws

If you fail to honour the opt-out request within the stipulated time frame, all your future commercial electronic messages will be considered spam. It so happens because, by unsubscribing, the recipient has essentially withdrawn their consent. Therefore, you end up breaching one of the three requirements of sending a commercial electronic message legally.

If your recipients continue receiving commercial electronic messages from your business even after unsubscribing, they may make a formal complaint to the Australia Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). They are the regulator responsible for monitoring and enforcing the Spam Act 2003 (Cth).

ACMA has the power to carry out the following steps if they find out there has been a breach of the Spam Act:

  • Give formal warnings
  • Issue infringement notices
  • Take the matter to the Federal Court, which can impose significant penalties
  • Seek injunctions from the Federal Court
  • Accept undertakings from the sender

Repeat corporate offenders who send two or more promotional messages in a day without consent may end up paying penalties up to $2.22 million a day.

email marketing laws

Exceptions to the Email Marketing Laws

Two types of promotional emails are partially exempt from the law prohibiting spam email marketing. However, for both these types of emails, you still need to comply with the identity requirement.

Factual emails that are not promoting goods or services

1. Completely factual emails that do not contain any commercial material. Hence they do not require meeting the consent and unsubscribing requirements. Such emails include messages that:

  • advise the recipient and are not commercial
  • offer a price/quote to the customer
  • provide a product description to the customer
  • are sent for the recipient’s genuine safety

Permitted organisations

Emails from permitted bodies that are exempt from the Spam Act. These organisations may include educational institutions, registered charities, government bodies, or registered political parties.

To achieve the sales targets, sending out multiple emails as a last resort can be a good idea, provided you are not engaging in spam marketing practices.

This is because, in email marketing, it is never a good practice to send two or more emails in a day. However, in case you are, be sure to comply with all the existing email marketing laws.

Key Takeaways

  • businesses need to have a functioning ‘unsubscribe’ feature
  • customers can still be sent emails necessary to provide goods or services they have signed up to once the customer has unsubscribed
  • there are harsh penalties for breaching the Spam Act
  • speak to an eCommerce lawyer if you’re not sure if the emails comply with law

About the Author

Farrah Motley
Director of Prosper Law. Farrah founded Prosper online law firm in 2021. She wanted to create a better way of doing legal work and a better experience for customers of legal services.

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