April 15, 2011

Those disclaimers at the end of corporate emails? Turns out that they’re pointless

“If this e-mail is received in error, notify the sender immediately.” “This e-mail does not create an attorney-client relationship.” “Any tax advice in this e-mail is not intended to be used for the purpose of avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code.” Many firms—The Economist included—automatically append these sorts of disclaimers to every message sent from their e-mail servers, no matter how brief and trivial the message itself might be.

The Economist has an interesting article about those annoying disclaimers that many organisations (businesses as well as unions and non-profits) add to out-going emails.

Not only are those disclaimers a waste of time, space and (if the email is printed) paper, they also serve no legal purpose:

Many disclaimers are, in effect, seeking to impose a contractual obligation unilaterally, and thus are probably unenforceable. This is clear in Europe, where a directive from the European Commission tells the courts to strike out any unreasonable contractual obligation on a consumer if he has not freely negotiated it. And a footer stating that nothing in the e-mail should be used to break the law would be of no protection to a lawyer or financial adviser sending a message that did suggest something illegal.

Does your organisation add a disclaimer to the bottom of all emails? Have you decided to add one to your email signature after seeing someone else with one?

In addition to serving no purpose, my view is email best practice (and etiquette) should be observed. Superfluous text in an email – even in the signature – should be avoided. Furthermore, although email is free to send, the billions of emails sent each day – equating to untold megawatts of electricity required to power the servers and a global carbon footprint more than double Australia’s – means that emails should be kept small. The kilobytes saved by getting rid of the disclaimer could just help save the planet.

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