New UK online marketing laws came into force on Thursday, even though the government admits many will be ineffective in the short term.

The regulations mark the British implementation of the European Union Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, which is designed to clamp down on spam email and protect consumers' privacy.

Under the new laws, business-to-consumer marketers can send commercial emails only if they have prior permission from recipients. Failure to comply will incur fines of up to £5,000 ($8,701; €7,175) per breach of the code. The only exception is if a firm has an existing business relationship with a consumer, in which case emails can be sent as long as they include an 'opt-out' function.

Other regulations include:

• Telephone and fax marketers must adopt an opt-out system.
• Websites using cookies (computer files containing personal information enabling sites to recognise return visitors) must offer consumers the right to refuse to have their data stored in this way, and must explain clearly the purpose of the cookies. This is effectively an opt-out regime.
• Commercial text messages can only be sent to mobile phones with permission from the recipient.

However, the anti-spam laws apply only to firms within the EU, meaning unsolicited emails from outside Europe are unregulated.

Stephen Timms, UK ecommerce minister, is not expecting an immediate impact on spam: "I think the legislation will deal quite effectively with intra-European mobile text messaging, but it will not immediately have an effect on the internet and we do need to address at an international level the question of spam."

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff