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Copyright of Electronic Email Messages PDF Print E-mail
Written by ChrisOliver   
Monday, 14 January 2021
As a past owner of orthopod lists I have dealt with a large number of email messages, up to 100 per day on some occasions. The position of copyright of electronic mail messages has been unclear to some users and there is a considerable amount of misconception about the use of electronic mail and I would hope that the following guidelines would help elucidate the use of e-mail.


1. Copyright law stops other people from using and abusing your original work.

2. Email messages are creative works and therefore copyrighted.

3. All your email messages are copyrighted to you (or your employer)

4. You do not have to register this copyright - it exists automatically.

5. When you post to a public list you do not lose copyright, but your message may be:
- archived
- forwarded to other lists
- quoted by others

6. Messages sent to a list should not be:
- quoted out of context
- changed or reworded
- mis-attributed

What is copyright?

If you are the author or maker of an original creative work, copyright law gives you the right to exclude others from using your work in certain ways. You should be able to control who makes copies, or creates a work derived from yours.

What can be copyrighted?

You can claim copyright on your own CREATIVE and ORIGINAL work once it exists in a written or otherwise tangible format.

Anything you write whether in English or C++, will be a creative work, as will anything you photograph, or draw. Email messages, handwritten notes, books, computer programs and webpages are all creative works and they are all protected by copyright.

How do you register copyright?

Copyright exists automatically from the moment that a creative work is given tangible form - as in a webpage or email message. It does not need to be registered.

Who owns the copyright?

The first owner of the copyright is the author, except where the work is made by an employee in the course of their employment, in which case the employer is the first owner. So, if you are sending email in the course of your work, your employer may be the owner of the copyright on your email messages. Mailbase does not own the copyright of messages sent to their lists, and nor does the list administrator.

Messages posted to public lists - Implied Licence (what is allowed)

Sending a message to a public discussion list has been compared to sending a letter to the editor of a newsletter. This would be regarded as intended for publication (an implied licence) unless there was clear evidence to the contrary.

When you send a message to a PUBLIC discussion list, you should be aware that:

Other members of the list may keep a copy of the message,

The message may be archived on a website,

The message may be forwarded to other interested parties,

Parts of the message may be quoted in discussion.

This is implicitly allowed reasonable use of a mailing list and to the benefit of all list members. It does not mean that you lose copyright.

Messages posted to public lists - Moral Rights

When you send a message to a public discussion list certain "moral rights" apply. Although your message may be widely disseminated, you have a right to expect the following:

The message is not changed or reworded if forwarded. (Messages sent to a closed mailing list or to an individual should never be forwarded without the author's permission.)

Your message is not quoted out of context. It is possible to quote, or misquote, part of a message in such a way that it misleads people and damages the reputation of the original sender.

Attribution is given to the author. The name of the original sender should always be acknowledged.

Any appended copyright notice is respected.

Further Information

Some information on UK copyright law is available from the Copyright Licensing Agency http://www.cla.co.uk/

Big Myths about copyright explained
http://www.clari.net/brad/copymyths.html answers some common questions, with particular regard to USENET postings (US law)
Last Updated ( Saturday, 16 July 2020 )
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