The Coding Monkey

Friday, October 21, 2005

Now That You've Read This Email...

We'd like to tell you that you read it by mistake, and that you're criminally liable for what you just read. You are ordered to forget everything you just read, delete it from every one of your systems, then scrub your brain of all neurons that may have been imprinted with the memory of this message.

Sound familiar? That's about what the typical email footer looks like that gets automatically attached to outgoing messages by many corporate email systems. Here is the actual text of one. I won't say what company it's from... who knows... they may send a huge guy named Tiny to break my knee caps:

This e-mail message and all attachments transmitted with it may contain legally privileged and/or confidential information intended solely for the use of the addressee(s). If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any reading, dissemination, distribution, copying, forwarding or other use of this message or its attachments is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please notify the sender immediately and delete this message and all copies and backups thereof.

Thank you.

From an honest to goodness legal perspective... how is this even workable? As I read into this message carefully, I find that it's actually a no-op. It means absolutely nothing. Not only is it unenforceable... but the circumstances under which it might be enforced can never realistically occur.

It says... "If the reader is not the intended recipient"... but the only way to know who the intended recipient is, is by looking at the address it was sent to. After all, as a reader, I have no way of really knowing what the intent of the sender is. I've been using email for probably 15 years now. I've yet to receive an email where my name wasn't in the To field. The way that email works... the reader is always the addressee.

The warning then says that reading the message is prohibited. Well that's a neat little catch 22 now isn't it? After all, in order to see the warning (which is at the bottom of the email mind you), you have to have already read the email. Maybe they could make a case if they stuck that ugly nasty warning at the top of the email, but that wouldn't be very business like now would it?

From a contract law perspective (and I did take one class in business law in college), this is completely unenforceable. They're trying to bind you to a contract after the fact. You have already read the message, and they're saying that now that you've read the message, you now have to accept their contract which comes after the message. Because you've already fulfilled their reading clause, you have no way to not accept their contract. It is really unenforceable on its face. In contract law, there is no such thing as a contract that you can't refuse.

So while it's an interesting request that they make... you don't actually have to abide by it. Reading, dissemination, distribution, copying, forwarding or other use of this message or its attachments is not strictly prohibited... it is in fact your right as the recipient of the message, intended or not.

Makes you want to share all sorts of secrets you get by email doesn't it? You know... just to spite a stupid lawyer and his idle threats.


  • In the end, it would all come down to who has the BIGGER lawyer.

    By Blogger Aaron, at October 22, 2005 8:40 PM  

  • "I've been using email for probably 15 years now. I've yet to receive an email where my name wasn't in the To field."

    I have had cable access and three mail accounts for several years. At least 3 times I have gotten mail addressed someone with a similar username.

    I put them back on ther server, mark them unread, filter my outlook to leave them alone and notify charter admin. So far charter admin has never taken action, so I delete them after a few months. *shrug*

    By Anonymous Sandi, at October 23, 2005 5:32 PM  

  • Well... can you clarify? Was it addressed to you... but meant for someone with a similar address? Because I don't count that.

    Or was an email that was addressed to someone else misrouted to your inbox?

    By Blogger Nick, at October 23, 2005 5:37 PM  

  • No, it was not addressed to me at all, but when I got them the addressee was very similar to my email address. Maybe one or two letters different.

    I never had the problem with or and I had them for a longer period of time.

    Must be a security problem with

    By Anonymous Sandi, at October 23, 2005 7:24 PM  

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