General Question

jamms's avatar

Are the legal disclaimers used in e-mail signatures actually legally binding?

Asked by jamms (609points) February 9th, 2009

Some people get really into making the legal disclaimer sound as intimidating as possible. I don’t think someone would have any legal recourse in enforcing this. Are there any laws or past instances where a legal notice in an e-mail signature has actually been upheld in a court?

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5 Answers

jamms's avatar

Disclaimer: This e-mail message is intended only for the personal use of the recipient(s) named above. If you are not an intended recipient, you may not review, copy or distribute this message. If you have received this communication in error, please notify us immediately by e-mail and delete the original message.

So if i get a message by accident, and forward it to someone, can I be legally responsible accountable for sending it to someone. Say for example I get a message about a crime that is to be committed, and I forward it to the police. Could they get off the hook because this information was illegally forwarded to the police?

dynamicduo's avatar

They’re not really legally binding because (as far as I know) for a legally binding agreement to exist, both parties must agree to the terms and conditions. Such email disclaimers are not agreed to by both parties (well they try to make you agree by using wording such as “By reading the email, you agree to XYZ”, but again that’s not really you agreeing at all, that’s them making you believe that you agree to the terms).

Here’s a great Slate article that goes into detail about one such disclaimer, breaking down each line. In that disclaimer’s case, it was mostly fluff and requests (“should”, “may”, “please”). As with all other law, such weasel words really add a dimension of confusion. Then again, that’s what lawyers want – if the law was simple and easy to understand, fewer lawyers would be hired.

In your hypothetical case of forwarding information about a crime to the police, I highly doubt that the disclaimer would get the criminals off the hook. The police department doesn’t usually use one piece of evidence submitted by a citizen, they will take your lead and conduct their own investigation, and then press charges based on the result of their investigation. I’m sure the criminal’s lawyer, if they found out about the email lead, would certainly try to have the case dismissed based on the disclaimer, but I highly doubt that would be successful.

cwilbur's avatar

They’re not legally binding, because both parties have to agree to a contract, and there’s no way the recipient can agree before reading the letter.

Their principal value is that they scare people who don’t realize they’re not legally binding.

janedavy_la's avatar

No legal disclaimer on an email signature could hold you liable. A legally binding signature must have a digital certificate assigned to it. Companies who deal with electronic signatures can be found of the service provider websites, such as Microsoft and Adobe. A good provider of digital signatures should support both company softwares (as well as many others).

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