Illustration: Nishant Choski Illustration: Nishant Choski

Emailing or texting potential customers doesn’t sound like a crime. Yet, once the federal anti-spam law comes into force, you could be nailed with stiff fines if you contact prospects without their consent.

For now, your firm isn’t at risk of incur- ring a fine of up to $10 million under Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). That’s because the law, although passed in 2010, will take effect only once Ottawa has final- ized the associated regulations and set an implementation date. Best guess for when: fall 2014, followed by a not yet finalized grace period for complying with the law.

Ask your contacts for approval soon to get ahead of the stampede of firms doing the same in a year

The feds crafted the CASL to hammer major spammers, not to make life harder for legitimate businesses. Matt Vernhout, chief privacy officer at Inbox Marketer, a Guelph, Ont.-based digital-messaging firm, speculates that regulators first will go after a few big fish to show they’re serious.

But the law applies to every firm. If yours fails to comply, a lone complaint to regulators could trigger an investigation that could disrupt your operations and harm your reputation—even if you aren’t convicted. Spam-law blogger Barry Sookman, a senior partner at law firm McCarthy Tétrault in Toronto, considers the law overkill: “You don’t need legislation this punitive and onerous just because there are a few bad actors.”

Read: From Zero to 7,000 Prospects in 3.5 Weeks

Will things really be so bad? Ottawa may soften the regulations due to lobbying from the business community but is wary of looking “soft on spam.” In other words, you shouldn’t put off complying with the law on the assumption that the regulations will be gutted. And there’s an upside: compliance means focusing your marketing on people who want to hear from you (read: those who won’t be annoyed by your messages).

Whatever form the law takes, it will be illegal to send emails and texts without clear and explicit permission from recipients. For most companies, that rules out business as usual with existing and potential clients.

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