Email disclaimer

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The JC’s guide to electronic communication

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An email disclaimer can be long or short; sombre or witty; comprehensive or general; but it will be there: an extract of text, appended to every outbound communication, canvassing any one or more of the following subjects:

What it is

The disclaimer will disingenuously catalogue the email’s confidentiality (though it won’t be: you don’t protect confidences by randomly emailing them to people); its copyright (and it might be, but the commercial value of an electronic message in a world awash with the buggers is nil, so good luck suing on it); its privilege (and unless in her headlong rush to obtain legal advice having been sued, the sender mistook you for her attorney, or was one herself and mistook you for her client, it won’t be); its potential inaccuracy (this is certainly possible, and a cute counterpoint to its ostensible value as intellectual property: “look, it is copyright, but probably bullshit”); it presents existential epidemiological danger to your computer systems if opened (in which case wghat were you doing sending it to someone else, and had its intended addressee safely received this cyber-trojan-laden hell-bomb, would that have been okay?); and all that said it will impress upon the mistaken receiver a moral — but (Law of Contracts 101 check: not legal) duty to destroy it if it was, in fact, sent in error.

What it is not

It may also wax lengthily about what it is not: a subject, of course, on which any lawyer can joyfully extemporise for as long as there are cattle still out on manoeuvres. It is not professional advice (as if that won’t be dolefully apparent on its face), nor an offer or a solicitation of an offer, nor a recommendation to do anything or not do anything (this is quite the juicy double negative: “we are not telling you not to do anything”.) And what kind of person acts instinctively on as recommendation from an email anyway? (Don’t answer that: it is most of you.)

All of this served up in the certain knowledge no person having enough adult literacy to comprehend an email disclaimer would — or even could — be dim-witted or bored enough to read it, much less care about what it says. So what do we think we are achieving with an email disclaimer? Which part of the sky would fall upon our heads were it not there?

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