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Emails and letters

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 17, 2011 9:11 am    Post subject: Emails and letters Reply with quote

Are people allowed to publish emails that were sent to them on the internet without permission?

A member of a club sent an email to the secretary concerning a sensitive subject and asked for it to be passed on to the committee.

The secretary has now published this email, and his reply, in the members' area of the club's website.

Is he allowed to do this?

If the author does not wish it to be published or disclosed to anybody else, do they have the right to demand it be taken off the internet?

If the answer is yes, they are allowed to publish it, does this mean that should I receive an email I can disclose it to anybody I like or publish it on the internet without needing the author's permission?

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 17, 2011 4:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Itsonlyme,
This is quite a broad issue, which although you are clearly asking about it from the perspective of Copyright, also covers the common law tort of breach of confidence, the Human Rights Act and arguably the Data Protection Act.
So let's start with Copyright. In all probability the writer of the email will be entitled to copyright in his 'literary' work. However in sending the email with a request that it be circulated to the committee members, he is giving the recipient a de facto licence to copy and publish his work, albeit to a limited readership. But given that he was specific about to whom the email should go, I think the fact the email was published more widely, to the site members, was possibly an infringement of copyright.

Next is the tort of breach of confidence. Briefly put, we all owe a duty of confidence to someone who divulges private information to us with the expectation that it will remain private. This was summarised by Lord Hope of Craighead in the case of Campbell v MGM Ltd in 2004 as folows
"a duty of confidence will arise whenever the party subject to the duty is in a situation where he knows or ought to know that the other person can reasonably expect his privacy to be protected."

This in turn depends on what is meant by private information. The Data Protection Act says that sensitive personal data is any of the following:

(a) the racial or ethnic origin of the data subject,

(b) his political opinions,

(c) his religious beliefs or other beliefs of a similar nature,

(d) whether he is a member of a trade union (within the meaning of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992),

(e) his physical or mental health or condition,

(f) his sexual life,

(g) the commission or alleged commission by him of any offence, or

(h) any proceedings for any offence committed or alleged to have been committed by him, the disposal of such proceedings or the sentence of any court in such proceedings.

but clearly many other subjects can also be just as 'private' in the sense that we may not wish the public at large to have access to it. This is also covered under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (as brought into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998) which says that "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence." (my emphasis).

You mention that the email concerned a sensitive subject. That implies that the secretary owed a special duty of care not to handle the information carelessly (Data Protection Act).

So if the author of the email is in fact aggrieved by the actions of the club secretary he has a number of causes of action open to him.

If you have some time on your hands you might find it interesting to read the judegement in the case of HRH Prince of Wales v Associated Newspapers which occurred after the Mail on Sunday published extracts from the private journals of Prince Charles about his visit to China in 1997.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 17, 2011 7:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you very much for your helpful reply Andy. Much appreciated! I shall pass the information on to the parties concerned.
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