email copyright
July 26, 2005 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Who owns email copyright?

Are individuals email copyrighted? Can a receipient post an email on the Net without permission? If they do, is there any remedy?

Where could one go to read up on this and related issues. A Google is overwhelming and full of irrelevant stuff.
posted by NorthCoastCafe to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Under the Berne convention, a literary work becomes copyrighted as soon as it is fixed in a material form. No notice is required. This would include the original writing in an e-mail.

You mean to ask if they may legally copy the e-mail without permission? It might be fair use. It would really depend on the context. You want to give more information?

Google for "copyright of correspondence" to read about this stuff on GigaLaw.

If you are the one considering taking legal action, you should consider that doing so, especially using the DMCA, for something of this nature is likely to hurt your reputation.
posted by grouse at 10:34 AM on July 26, 2005

As grouse mentioned, the author of an e-mail holds copyright in the e-mail, with or without notice. Notice may, however, affect the damages one can recover. In addition, the potential market value of the e-mail (which I imagine in most cases is quite small) will place a limit on what one could recover, although filing for copyright will allow one to collect statutory damages irrespective of the market value of the e-mail. I am not a lawyer, much less an intellectual property lawyer, but is my understanding fair use may allow someone other than the copyright holder to make use of portions of a work, or even its entirety, depending on circumstances. As one might expect, this issue has come up in the past with respect to mailing lists and e-mail archives.
posted by RichardP at 11:38 AM on July 26, 2005

You own the copyright on anything you write. But it will be very hard to claim damages (that is, how much money have you lost because the email was made public).

I suspect that you are more upset about the information in the email (or the fact that you said these things) becoming public, rather than the specific wording of the email. Copyright does not protect you against this type of revelation. If you did not have a confidentiality agreement with the recipient of the e-mail, then they are free to reveal this information.

Unless the e-mail contained something you planned to publish, and now you have lost potential income, then I don't think the copyright approach will work out for you.
posted by winston at 4:31 PM on July 26, 2005

Reading up on this and related issues, all American: and of course our good friend Lawrence Lessig and the Creative Commons.
posted by mendel at 7:40 AM on July 27, 2005

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