Is Your School Newsletter Illegal?


It is almost incomprehensible to think that a school newsletter could be illegal.

Don’t schools have the right to contact parents??

The simple answer is yes they do… however, it’s the way that the newsletter is delivered and some of its contents that could be considered illegal spam.

If you are sending your newsletter via EMAIL… then your email could be spam, unless it complies with the Australian spam act 2003. It only takes one parent complaint… and then a whole new world of “please explain” will open up… and you don’t want to go there.

Most people think they know what spam is and how to identify it. Most people will say its unwanted email… you know the emails about viagra, vitamin supplements or the Nigerian General who has left millions in a trust fund. Most likely its spam… but it may not be either.

So.. what is spam?

“The Spam Act 2003 prohibits the sending of commercial electronic messages with an Australian Link.” Australian Communications and Media Authority

The good news is that government bodies are partially EXEMPT and educational institutions are exempt from 2 of the 3 conditions under the spam act.

Charities, charitable institutions, religious organisations and educational institutions are exempt from the Spam Act. If an organisation falls into one of these categories, then any commercial electronic messages it sends are exempt from the Spam Act’s consent and unsubscribe conditions if, and only if, the messages relate to goods or services supplied by the organisation that authorised the message.ACMA

The key part here is

…the messages relate to goods or services supplied by the organisation that authorised the message

Essentially a school newsletter must be factual to be exempt from the consent and unsubscribe portions of the spam act. But what happens when the newsletter contains content that promotes the goods or services of someone else?? If you don’t have consent or an unsubscribe facility… then it could be spam.

Commercial email must contain 3 distinct elements:

Consent – the message must be sent with the recipient’s consent. The recipient may give express consent, or under certain circumstances consent may be inferred from their conduct or an existing business or other relationships
Identify – the message must contain accurate information about the person or organisation that authorised the sending of the message and how to contact them
Unsubscribe – the message must contain a functional ‘unsubscribe’ facility to allow the recipient to opt out from receiving messages from that source in the future. The unsubscribe requests must be honoured within five working days. Australian Communications and Media Authority

When is a school email considered commercial?

Essentially school newsletters are not commercial by nature. School newsletters will contain school achievements and operational information for parents. Of course school newsletters may contain information about other organizations, but it must be limited to the business name, the logo and contact details of the business in order to be exempt. As soon as you publish any more than that … the school newsletter is no longer exempt and must comply with all conditions of the spam act.

The spam act states….

Most electronic newsletters do not constitute ‘purely factual information’. While their content may be largely factual, their purpose is usually to promote an organisation’s products or services.

If the newsletter contains any more than the limited allowable commercial information outlined above (business name, logo and contact details), then it falls under the heading of a ‘commercial electronic message’, and must comply with the consent, identify and unsubscribe conditions of the Spam Act. ACMA

So whilst schools themselves are largely exempt from the spam act 2003, parts of the school newsletter may not be.

What about Inserts, Catalogues, Promotions and Flyers?

If you are emailing commercial material either attached to the email or appended to the newsletter itself, then this could push your email toward the realms of a commercial message. If you don’t have consent, identify or unsubscribe provisions in your email … then it could be considered spam.

A traditional paper copy school newsletter will contain school achievements, operational information and school based editorial. Schools might also send home other material bundled up in the newsletter such as commercial catalogues, sporting fixtures, software catalogues and other school based promotions. Whilst these things are directly related to school students, they are commercial in nature. If you were to translate this to an electronic medium… then it could be considered commercial and would require all 3 spam provisions in the email.

Some Bad Examples…

Schools are exempt from consent and unsubscribe provisions of the spam act. But they are NOT exempt from identity. Identity means including contact information in the email.

Here are some real examples…

Come and see SBSS play, Masquerade. The play is full of music, dancing and fun.
Tickets on sale at office window on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 8am to 10am only, until sold out. $5.00 per ticket. The venue is at [venue withheld] and begins at 7pm till 8.30pm on Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th of December.

This email didn’t have a salutation nor did it have who it was from or how to contact them. It must contain adequate identity information.

Dear Parents,

Please find attached the flyer regarding our up and coming fundraising event. This should be a great night out, come along with your dancing shoes and have some fun!

See you there,
P & C Committee

This email identifies who sent it but does not contain information on how to contact them. It must contain adequate identity information.

URGENT: Help Needed Sunday 2nd October

The Bunnings Fund Raiser will be cancelled unless more helpers commit to raising valuable funds for the P & C. The school may have a loss of approx $1500 if volunteers do not come forward.
WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW !
Please call Diana on [phone number withheld] no later than 1200 tomorrow Saturday 17th Sept.

Our last newsletter for Term 3 is on the website, click on the quick link: 15th September 2011

Happy & Safe Holidays
Newsletter Team

Is this commercial? It’s backed by a commercial enterprise. Does not clearly identify who sent it nor does it contain contact information. It must contain adequate identity information.

To all parents/caregivers,

With the continuing rainy conditions, and the heavy weather approaching, I wish to inform you that I have made the decision to approve early collection of children.

You may collect your child/children as soon as you have received this notification.

PLEASE see your child’s teacher who will have an early release form for you to sign your child out of the class.

Regards,
[Name Withheld]
Principal

This particular email had ALL parent email addresses in the TO line of the email!! Serious privacy issues here. No contact information. It must contain adequate identity information.

[Email address withheld]
16/11/2011

to undisclosed recipients
Junior Swimming Program 2011_ Claims for Credits.doc
24K View Download

This particular email ONLY had an attachment. No salutation, not identifying information, no contact information… nothing… It must contain adequate identity information.

The Fine Line

Sometimes schools walk a very fine line when sending emails. Staff usually have good intentions and do a fine job… but sometimes the best intentions can result in serious breaches.

Cover Yourself with Best Practice

Personal Email

When sending email from school, always include a signature block with your name and contact information. Schools provide you with all the tools to do this… but time and time again I see emails with just a first name at the end. Schools don’t need to provide or prove consent or include an unsubscribe facility… but they must provide IDENTITY. If someone really wanted to get picky… they could flag the email without proper identity as spam. It might seem low level… but its the law.

Newsletters

This is where things can get a bit grey. Sometimes your newsletter may contain commercial information. Most of it will be factual relating to school matters… but on occasions… there may be something commercial. In these cases, the full spam act may apply. As such you need to have consent AND you need to able to prove this. You need to show identity and you need to have a functional unsubscribe facility.

Consider it an Insurance Policy

If you could completely cover yourself against spam… then why wouldn’t you??

So why not just include all parts of the spam act and protect yourself?? Well… you can and its easy.

To do that you need to provide

Consent. A subscribe form on your website will do this.
Identity. This is easy enough… and if you could automate this you could set it and for get it. This way identity will always be displayed. This is the part school often miss.
Unsubscribe. Add a link or a button to each email that removes subscribers from the email list. If you could automate this, it would be brilliant, otherwise you need to pay an employee to manage the unsubscribe process. If it took someone 10 minutes each week for 40 weeks it could cost around $500 in wages.

You could then include the commercial content in your newsletters if you needed to and cover yourself against spam because essentially your newsletter now meets all commercial requirements set out in the spam act 2003.

Should I use a 3rd party Email Service Just for Spam Protection?

No.

You should use a 3rd party Email Service such as Safe Newsletters because its ultra convenient and will save you time, money and reduce paper consumption. Spam protection is just the by product of the service.

A 3rd party email service such as Safe Newsletters automates lots of things which would take a long time using something like MS Outlook. Setting up the service is quick, time efficient and ultra professional. We even give you the forms and links to put on your website so that parents can subscribe automatically to your newsletter.

We also include tools geared just for schools. These tools galvanize each and every email with information that will enhance your parent communication strategy. And of course we provide all the elements of the spam act to protect you.

That’s why Safe Newsletters is becoming the preferred option for schools to manage their newsletter distribution.

We send more email in a single day than most people send in a lifetime. We service school across Australia from primary to secondary, public and private. We include your school header and logo in each email to personalize and professionalize your school and we can even segment your distribution to smaller lists to include things like year levels, sporting teams, performing arts groups and parent groups. We even provide you with stats on how many parents open the email.

So… try us today. Its free. Go Safe Newsletters and on the right you will see a trial form. Fill it out and get started to experience a new level of convenience and freedom that results from emailing your school newsletter.

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