Email disclaimer

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An email disclaimer is a disclaimer, notice or warning which is added to an outgoing email and so forms a distinct section which is separate from the main message.[1][2] The reasons for adding such a disclaimer include confidentiality, copyright, contract formation, defamation, discrimination, harassment, privilege and viruses.[3] Since the disclaimer is usually attached at the end, it will not be noticed until after everything else, so cannot prevent any virus infection or other damage nor restore confidentiality.

The Economist reports that people have long stopped paying attention to disclaimers, claiming they are not legally enforceable.[4] However, one attorney concluded that email disclaimers been found to have legal effect in numerous published court opinions throughout the United States, though their effect when used below signature lines may be limited.[5]

Issues frequently dealt with in email disclaimers[edit]

Confidentiality[edit]

A disclaimer may be added to mitigate the risk that a confidential email may be forwarded to a third-party recipient. Organisations may use the disclaimer to warn such recipients that they are not authorised recipients and to ask that they delete the email. The legal force and standing of such warnings is not well-established.[6][7]

Contract[edit]

A disclaimer may state that the email does not form a contract. This may not be effective as the substantive body of the email may contradict and override this. In the case of Baillie Estates Limited against Du Pont (UK) Limited, which was heard in the Outer House of Scotland, it was found that a contract was in effect, as attached to the relevant email, even though there was a standard disclaimer.[8][9]

Copyright[edit]

Republication of emails may be protected by copyright law and a disclaimer may warn that such rights to copy the text of the email are reserved by the originator.[10]

Viruses[edit]

Computer viruses may be spread by email. To mitigate the risk that a recipient might sue the sender of an infected email, a disclaimer might warn of the possibility of infection and advise the recipient to conduct their own scan. The disclaimer might provide details of the outgoing scanning which has already been performed to provide some guidance about the level of risk.[11][12]

Effectiveness of disclaimers[edit]

In the United States, several courts have ruled that email disclaimers may have a legal effect when intentionally included in an email, generally before the text of the email or in the body of the email. However, no court appears to have ruled on the effectiveness of boilerplate email disclaimers appearing below the signature line in every email.[13]

In the EU, there is a directive which strikes down legal obligations which have been imposed and this would make disclaimers unenforceable. Disclaimers appear to have arisen as a result of imitation and habit rather than because they are effective. As a result, most people no longer take them seriously.[14]

Length and other awards[edit]

The Register conducted a survey in 2001 and found that UBS Warburg had the longest disclaimer — 1,081 words.[15] Other categories in their Email Disclaimer Awards included the Most Incomprehensible Disclaimer and the Most PC Disclaimer.[16]

References[edit]

External links[edit]