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Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) enforces legal requirements for distribution of commercial electronic messages which have potential implications for individual artists as well as arts organizations.  The Canada Council for the Arts complies with CASL. 

About the law

The  law  regulates all commercial electronic messages (CEMs) and CEM senders must meet certain requirements or risk prosecution and/or financial penalties. The legislation is broad, and applies to a wide range of CEMs. For individual artists and arts organizations, these CEMs might include, but would not be limited to: promotional emails about performances, ticket sales, membership offers or donation requests.

What is a CEM? The definition is broad, but any message with an intent to encourage the recipient to participate in commercial activity, whether immediate or long-term, is considered a CEM.

In a nutshell, organizations and individuals must have consent from recipients in order to send any CEMs, or email outreach for the purposes of any kind of commercial promotion or transaction. By the terms of the law, any recipient who has explicitly or implicitly agreed to receive emails from an organization can still be emailed, but most email lists contain a percentage of people whose names were added after some kind of contact and for whom you may not have express or implied consent. The lines of the legislation are blurry, and we encourage artists and arts organizations to explore the ways in which they communicate with their various clients and stakeholders (you can use this chart [PDF, 1.5 MB]), and the possibility of needing to seek opt-in consent from individuals in your database lists.

Some notable exceptions to the legislation

Registered charities conducting fundraising (as opposed to commercial) activities are exempt from this law. What this means is that if your arts organization is a registered charity, you can send CEMs for fundraising purposes, but that you potentially cannot do the same with emails promoting festivals, workshops, exhibitions, concerts, book launches, etc. each of which has a commercial component. And the same is true for individual musicians promoting ticketed subscriptions, concerts, visual artists promoting exhibitions where works are for sale, etc. Sometimes, communications might fall in an ambiguous zone where it is part CEM, part not. Refer to the resources below to explore how the law might impact these.

Important: This page isn’t meant to detail all the implications of the law or to ascertain whether you comply or not, but to give Canadian arts organizations and artists who rely on email to contact current members and clients - or to recruit new ones – a heads-up that they should find out more about CASL to ensure they are compliant.

Additional Resources