Is Buying an Email List Legal? Should You Buy a List?

Is it legal to buy an email list?

Is it legal to buy an email list? The answer, like many things, is complicated. It can be, and it might not be.

Before we get too far into the answer, let’s make sure we understand what we mean by “buying an email list.”

Some email marketers, in an effort to save time, decide to buy lists of names and email addresses. These email addresses are then added to the marketer’s email list. Sounds like a fast, easy way to grow an email list almost instantly, right?


Unfortunately, it’s a tactic fraught with problems and isn’t something any honest marketer should do. For more on that, you should check out this post that explains why you should never buy an email list.

But that’s not the question of the hour.

Is it legal?

The answer to that question is…. It depends

I know. I know. I can hear you sighing from here. Hear me out.

Before we go any further, you should know that I’m not a lawyer, and this should not be considered legal advice. If you have any questions about the laws of your jurisdiction, please consult legal counsel familiar with email marketing.

When buying a list is absolutely illegal

Thanks to recent privacy laws around the world, marketers have had to radically adjust how they acquire and process personal information. This is actually great news for you and me as marketers who value our industry.

Individuals living in nations and states covered by these laws are protected against unauthorized uses of their personal data.

These laws vary in scope, and penalties for violations can vary. But they are unanimous in supporting the right of the individual to control how his data is accessed and used.

Email marketers aren’t typically dealing with social security numbers or protected health information (PHI), but we do handle names and email addresses. While perhaps not on the same level as health data, SSN’s or payment information, a person’s name and his email address are both personal data.

Therefore, we are subject to many of the same privacy laws and restrictions.

Those laws stipulate – among other things – that personal data cannot be obtained and processed without the express permission of those to whom the information belongs.

When you buy a list, you’re obtaining personal data without the consent of those on the list. These people have not opted in to your list, and they have not agreed to receive any type of communication from you.


In other words, if a list you purchase contains the personal data of individuals living in places covered by these privacy laws, you are unequivocally breaking the law and could be fined big bucks.

When it might not be illegal

If no one on the list is a citizen of a nation or state covered by one of the aforementioned privacy laws, you might be in the clear legally speaking.

Even then, it’s a gray area and something I simply cannot advise doing. Ever.

Even if it’s not illegal, buying a list is a jerk move

Perhaps instead of simply asking whether or not buying an email list is legal, we should ask ourselves whether or not we should.

The answer to that question, in my professional and personal opinion, is a resounding no. You can read more about why I take such a hard stance against buying email lists here.

Email lists – well, healthy email lists, are built based on permission. If you’re on my list, it’s because you have given me explicit permission to send you email. If you’re not, it’s because you haven’t given me that permission.

If I buy a list, and your name is one of those purchased, have you given me permission to email you? No. If you haven’t given me permission, and I send you marketing messages, what am I doing? Spamming.

Buying an email list turns you into a spammer. Plain and simple.

Instead of buying a list, sign up for the free email bootcamp and learn to build your own email list. Seriously, if I can do this, so can you.