The Legality (or Lack Thereof) of the Inevitable Red Carpet Press Releases

Chances are if you have ever attended a fashion show and/or come in contact with a public relations company, or merely listed your contact information on your fashion-related website, you have been subjected to a flood of emails. During awards season, which kicked off this weekend with the Golden Globes, it becomes increasingly obvious just how many unwanted emails are sent by public relations companies and received by unwitting fashion figures.

While not just annoying (largely due to their volume, frequency, and oftentimes, downright irrelevance), these emails - whether they are article pitches or press releases informing you what designer so-and-so actress was wearing on the red carpet - probably also fall into the category of being illegal. This is why: U.S. law prohibits the sending of unsolicited commercial emails, and yet, it seems that many PR teams missed (and/or are  completely ignoring) this legal memo.

Let's get a little bit of the background information out of the way first. The CAN-SPAM Act, which was passed in 2003 as a result of the rapid growth in unwanted commercial electronic mail messages, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to opt out of receiving such emails, and spells out the penalties for violations (think: fines up to $16,000). Not all emails are subject to the provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act; only commercial ones are. So, what are considered "commercial" messages?

Well, according to the law, these are messages with "the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,” including emails that promote content on commercial websites. If you consider the content of most article pitches and PR-related emails, this seems to cast a very encompassing net into which nearly all of these cases seem to fit in it rather neatly.

So, what does that mean for us, the unamused recipients of such emails? It means that the senders are required to do a number of things, including disclosing that such emails are for advertising purposes and making it easy for recipients to opt out of them. They must also permanently remove the e-mail addresses of the individuals who opt out within 10 business days. What it does not mean: It does not mean that we, as individuals, can sue.

Just as the CAN-SPAM Act is not meant to cover isolated e-mail messages sent by individuals, it is not meant to create a cause of action for private individuals. The CAN-SPAM Act does, however, give certain parties, namely, the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") and your internet service provider, standing to sue on your behalf (and they have filed suits of this nature in the past).

Having said all of this, you are not powerless. If you try to unsubscribe from an email list and your request is not honored, you can file a complaint with the FTC. It seems that this is our best bet in avoiding these pesky PR emails that we never signed up to receive in the first place.

The good news: We are one awards show down for this season and PR companies are hereby put on notice.