You Can't Buy an Existing Business Relationship

I ran across this on Box of Meat the other day. Pitney Bowes pays $2.9M to settle ‘Blast Fax’ lawsuit: "When you buy a client list as part of buyng a firm’s assets, do you have an established business relationship with the clients that allows you to fax them? The issue just cost Pitney Bowes $2.9M to settle...."

Wow, does that bring back memories. Not fax-specific memories, but email ones.

See, in the past, I've dealt with various companies buying other companies before, and they tend to assume that when they buy the assets of some other company, including its email list, that suddenly they now have permission to send to that list. It's great to see the lawsuit set the record straight on that, from my perspective. It shows that you can't buy a business relationship. It states pretty clearly that a recipient isn't suddenly opted-in to receive your marketing communication simply because you bought the assets of that other company. (Sure, the lawsuit is really about fax spam, but the permission principles here are the same: Don't do it, unless the person on the receiving end explicitly told YOU it was okay.)

I ran into this sometimes when companies would do cross-promotions, as well. I'm having offer X sent to company Y's list, and company Y is going to give me a list of everybody who buys my product from them, so I can market to them. "But that doesn't give you permission to market to them," I'd point out. Their response invariably indicated dismay at my statement, because the marketing agreement between the two companies suggested otherwise. "I'm allowed to have this data! It says so right here in this agreement!" Sure, that's what it says. But that's not what I said. You having that data doesn't mean you can market to those people-- a marketing agreement doesn't trump best practices (or the law). If you sign up to receive emails from company A and suddenly start receiving emails from company B, you're more likely to report that mail as spam. Spam complaints spike, the feedback loops light up, and you end up in the bulk folder (or blocked).

Of course, it's easy enough to fix: STOP DOING IT. Better yet, don't do it to begin with.


  1. Interesting case for sure. Notable that in this case the 2005 Junk Fax Prevention Act has a specific provision which bars the transfer of Existing Business Relationships. So, if they were emailing the customers of the company whose assets were purchased, there probably wouldn't be similar recourse.

  2. Yeah, but in the email side of things, law notwithstanding, assuming opt-in based on a transfer of business relationship is a deliverability disaster in the making. Thousands of people suddenly getting mail they don't believe they opted-in to = 7% complaint rate = blocking.


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