Disclaimer: Don’t Read this Email

Quite a few years ago, I noticed I started seeing legal disclaimers everywhere.  Software licenses that were larger than novellas, product users manuals that contained more legalese than actual product information, and then curious email disclaimer attachments that were many times longer than the emails themselves.

For some odd reason, the concept of email disclaimers seemed somehow especially ridiculous – even by the already warped standards of the modern office space.  That someone would send me something I didn’t request and then establish many conditions for using this information.  It all seemed rather OfficeSpace-esque to me.  Perhaps along with the disclaimer the email trailer could ask: “Is this good for the company?”

Good for the company?

It is refreshingly honest that even a website set up to promulgate this memeEmailDisclaimers.com admits “The disclaimers added to the end of emails are not legally binding.” 

Huh? A legal disclaimer that has no legal basis?  What purpose could it possibly serve then?   Increase your required network bandwidth?  Act as a minor legal speed-bump?  Make your company sound letigious? 

I liked some of the disclaimers so much I figured I get into the act and attach my own silly one (with language actually borrowed from a typical software license) to the bottom on my emails.  Here is the one I used:

TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, THIS DOCUMENT IS PROVIDED ON AN “AS IS” BASIS AND THE AUTHOR DISCLAIMS ALL OTHER WARRANTIES AND CONDITIONS, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, CONFORMANCE WITH DESCRIPTION, TITLE AND NON-INFRINGEMENT OF THIRD PARTY RIGHTS TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHOR BE LIABLE FOR ANY INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, SPECIAL OR EXEMPLARY DAMAGES OR LOST PROFITS WHATSOEVER (INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, DAMAGES FOR LOSS OF BUSINESS PROFITS, BUSINESS INTERRUPTION, LOSS OF BUSINESS INFORMATION, OR ANY OTHER PECUNIARY LOSS) ARISING OUT OF THE USE OR INABILITY TO USE THE EMAIL PRODUCT , EVEN IF THE AUTHOR HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES. IN ANY CASE, THE AUTHOR´S CUMULATIVE AND ENTIRE LIABILITY TO YOU OR ANY OTHER PARTY FOR ANY LOSS OR DAMAGES RESULTING FROM ANY CLAIMS, DEMANDS OR ACTIONS ARISING OUT OF OR RELATING TO THIS AGREEMENT SHALL NOT EXCEED THE PURCHASE PRICE.

I tried using this disclaimer signature – but people must have thought it was serious and no one questioned it or saw any humor or irony in it – or maybe they just thought they’d get sued if they replied.

But just to show that this in not merely a US phenomenon, Jeffrey Goldberg from the UK lists various incarnations of these he’s seen at UK companies.

I liked Jeffrey’s stance that it is quite fine for a company to say: “this email is the opinion of the author and not the company” but that other disclaimers serve little purpose.  Especially since companies don’t attach similar disclaimers to non-electronic, paper mailings. 

Another, better approach might be to simply provide a web link to whatever litigious language/contract/”Terms of Use” a company wants to promulgate and force on people.

Information is a corporate tool that can cut both ways – how does a company allow its employees unfiltered communication with the outside world yet shield itself from the consequences?  Sorry, but email disclaimers are probably not the easy answer to this very difficult and complex question.

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