Legalities regarding publishing other people's email
October 17, 2007 3:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering writing a book based on email correspondence I've received. Can I use the emails in their entirety, provided I remove the names and addresses? What are the legal issues regarding this?

I'd like it known my number one concern is not exposing anyone's identity and embarrassing them. Thanks in advance.
posted by PoopyDoop to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In Melanie Thernstrom's memoir "The Dead Girl," she had to fictionalize letters and cards from her dead friend, Bibi Lee, because the rights to Bibi's letters reverted to her parents after Lee's murder and they refused to let her use them.
posted by GaelFC at 3:45 PM on October 17, 2007

Well, the authors of the correspondence still own the copyright for publication, so you'd have to get their OK.
posted by klangklangston at 3:46 PM on October 17, 2007

Yep, the copyright belongs to the author(s) of the email(s) and it is essentially irrelevant whether or not you conceal his/her/their identity.
posted by londongeezer at 4:04 PM on October 17, 2007

Blogger Steve Graham wrote a book called "The Good, The Spam, and the Ugly" which reproduces various email exchanges he has had with 419 scammers.

In principle they could sue him, but to do that they'd have to identify themselves. They won't, because they'd be confessing to committing a crime. So Graham could get away with it.

Graham did not include the true identity of his correspndents, becaus of course he doesn't know.

Don Novello wrote a book called "The Lazlo Letters". He created a fictional character who was rather literal and clueless who wrote to various corporations and to famous people. The book is a collection of his letters and the responses he got. Novello did identify those with whom he corresponded. So far as I know Novello was never sued. (There was a sequel.)

It's possible that Novello got a pass via the humor clause of the Fair Use exception. If so, that would cover Graham too.

I think that you need to consult a competent IP lawyer.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:52 PM on October 17, 2007

Not only Lazlo Letters but Letters From a Nut (same premise) went through several sequels... I'm sure no permission was obtained and the company names were retained intact.
posted by rolypolyman at 5:16 PM on October 17, 2007

Great answers. I'm much clearer on the matter. Thank you to everyone.
posted by PoopyDoop at 5:49 PM on October 17, 2007

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