Enough With The Email Legal Rap

Apr 28, 2011

The only thing worse than wading through a bunch of new emails to sort the wheat from the chaff, is all those foreboding legal messages tacked on to the bottom.  The ones that warn you that you may be liable if you stumble across the email lying in the street, and that you must immediately hand deliver by courier the offending message if it’s not actually for you – and also swear yourself to utmost secrecy before destroying all and any copies of the offending message.  Many firms automatically add these sorts of disclaimers to every message sent from their e-mail servers, no matter how brief and trivial the message itself might be.

Well guess what? According to a recent Economist article, Spare us the E-Mail yada-yada, such email messages are not only annoying, they are legally useless.  The article says, “Lawyers and experts on internet policy say no court case has ever turned on the presence or absence of such an automatic e-mail footer in America, the most litigious of rich countries.” 

In fact, many disclaimers are, in effect, seeking to impose a unilateral contractual obligation, and thus are probably unenforceable – certainly in Europe.  The Economist explains that many of these messages “are simply there because company lawyers often insist on them because they see others using them. As with Latin vocabulary and judges’ robes, once something has become a legal habit it has a tendency to stick.”

So score one for the common sense brigade.  Maybe we can start a counter movement to ban these silly messages, along with caution labels at the top of ladders, “For external use only” labels on hair-dryers, and all the other legalese that has sprouted faster and farther than Kudzu in a Georgia summer

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