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Is Cold Outreach Illegal?

February 1, 2023

You’re considering your big cold outreach campaign launch. But wait—“is this even legal?”



Yes, and no.



Generally speaking, cold outreach is not illegal. But, it can be confused with spam emails, which are.



In this article, we’ll discuss the difference between cold emails and spam and how you can comply with laws in different countries regarding unsolicited emails, so you don’t get caught in the red tape.



Cold Email vs. Spam


It’s important to note that while “cold emails” and “spam” are often used interchangeably, they refer to two contrasting things. Here are their main differences:



Cold Emails 


Cold emailing is a form of a cold outreach campaign to make initial contact with potential clients, known as leads. Leads are found by researching people or organizations interested in your products or services. Then, the cold emails are personalized to individual leads and sent to them by real humans.



Unlike a spam email, a cold email is personalized for each recipient, focuses on solving their problems or needs, and shares a piece of content—like exclusive webinar access or an eBook—that’s interesting and valuable to the lead’s industry.



The ultimate goal of a cold email is to build credibility and trust with the recipient so that you can establish a relationship over time.





In contrast to cold emails, spam emails are unsolicited emails sent to random recipients that are purchased or scraped from websites with prospecting software. Spam typically has little to no relevance to the recipient’s needs and is seen as intrusive or unwanted.



Real humans can send spam emails, but they’re often sent using spambots—fake accounts that mimic real-life user behavior.



Cold Outreach Laws in Different Countries


Now that we understand the difference between cold emails and spam, it’s time to look at the different laws in various countries regarding unsolicited emails.



#1 United States


The US enacted the CAN-SPAM Act in 2003, which outlines how businesses should craft their cold email copies. The Act applies to “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.”



Here are 5 requirements from the CAN-SPAM Act that marketers must comply with:


  1. Include an opt-out method for recipients: Your prospects should have the option to stop receiving emails from you. An example of an opt-out form is an unsubscribe link at the bottom of your email.
  2. Honor opt-out requests within 10 days: Once a recipient decides they no longer want to receive emails from you, you have 10 days to remove them from your email list.
  3. Use transparent subject lines: Clickbait-y subject lines may get you a higher open rate, but this violates the CAN-SPAM Act. Instead, be true to your intentions with your commercial messages.


Of course, you can still be clever with your subject lines by injecting humor or a sense of urgency. For example: “Don’t miss out on our 75% Holiday Promo this December!”


  1. Human senders only: Never use bots to send your cold outreach campaign. You have to make sure that you’re sending your email using a legitimate email address that accurately represents you and your company.
  2. Include your company address within the email: CAN-SPAM Act requires marketers to include their company’s physical address at the bottom of their email. However, you can also use a post office box registered with the U.S. Postal Service if you don’t have a physical address.


#2 United Kingdom


In the UK, anyone working with domestic personal information for email campaigns has to abide by the rules outlined in the Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).



If you’re sending an email that contains the recipient’s name or other personal info and you’re using your personal email address (like [email protected]), you must obtain the recipient’s consent or prove that you have a legitimate interest. 



For example, if you can prove that you have the right to store an individual’s full name and email address, the next thing is to prove that you have the right to send them an email.



However, if you send from a corporate email address like [email protected], then there’s no need to ask for permission to send an email until they opt-out from your email list.



To keep things simple and in line with the law, send using a corporate address and include an opt-out option within your email body. And when they unsubscribe from your email list, promptly remove them from your recipient list.



#3 European Union


In Europe, citizens’ data is protected through the General Data Protection Regulation of 2016. It is perfectly legal for businesses to send cold emails, but it’s not without limits.



Here’s how you can send emails that are GDPR-compliant:


  • You need to have an appropriate reason to reach out: Under the law, you need to have a valid reason for reaching out using the recipient’s data. So, it’s ideal only to send out your promotional materials to high-quality leads that have proven interest in your offer.
  • You must be able to explain where you got the recipient’s data: As the GDPR protects data privacy, it’s crucial that you mention in your cold email where you got your recipient’s email address and other data from.
  • You have to give an opt-out option: Like the US and UK, cold emails sent in the EU must also have an easy way for recipients to opt out of your emails. You need to explain clearly how they can stop receiving emails from you.


#4 Australia


In the land Down Under, all emails must abide by the rules outlined in the Spam Act of 2003.



Any cold email opened in Australia, regardless of whether the email originated within the nation’s borders or not, is subject to Australia’s 2003 Act.



Here’s how you can legally send cold emails in Australia:


  • Get express or inferred consent before launching your cold email campaign. Recipients may express consent via forms, a checkbox on a website, by phone call, or in person, and if an email address is provided, it is considered inferred consent.
  • Provide necessary details about yourself as the sender: In your email body, make sure to provide your name, company details, and contact information. But, when someone else is sending an email on your behalf, they must mention either your full name or legal business name.
  • Have an easy opt-out option: Your recipients should be able to unsubscribe from your email list without additional tasks. For example, you shouldn’t require them to create an account to unsubscribe.


Send Cold Emails Legally


So, is cold outreach illegal? The simple answer is no. But, you must follow the laws and regulations of the countries where you’re sending them.



Understand the legal implications before launching your cold email campaigns and remember to obtain permission before sending emails, provide opt-out options, and offer transparency about where you got the recipient’s data. If you follow these requirements, you’ll send cold emails legally and ethically.



Don’t have the time to learn all the requirements to send a legal cold outreach campaign? 



We at ScaleUpScales can help you. We are well-versed in different countries’ spam regulations to ensure that there will be no legal implications to your campaign. Contact us today!