Email signature disclaimers are automatic additions to the end of many organisations’ emails, sometimes adding half a page of text or more to the sender’s message. They are intended to serve different purposes, such as:
- Protecting the organisation from liability for errors or omissions in the email content
- Protecting the organisation from liability for breach of confidentiality or data protection laws
- Protecting the organisation from liability for defamation or harassment
- Protecting the organisation from liability for contract formation or variation
- Protecting the organisation from liability for viruses or malware transmitted via email
- Protecting the organisation’s intellectual property rights and trademarks
- Protecting the organisation’s reputation and goodwill
However, the legal validity and effect of these disclaimers are uncertain and disputed, as there is no clear statutory or case law. Some of the factors that may affect the enforceability of email signature disclaimers are:
- The timing and placement of the disclaimer. A disclaimer that is placed at the end of an email may be seen as too late or too inconspicuous to be effective, as it may not be read or noticed by the recipient before they act on the email content. A disclaimer that is placed at the beginning of an email may be more prominent and visible, but it may also be seen as too vague or general to be applicable to the specific email content.
- The wording and scope of the disclaimer. A disclaimer that is too broad or too narrow may not be effective, as it may not cover all the relevant risks or scenarios that may arise from the email communication. A disclaimer that is too long or too complex may not be effective, as it may not be understood or agreed by the recipient. A disclaimer that is too harsh or unreasonable may not be effective, as it may be seen as unfair or unconscionable by a court.
- The intention and expectation of the parties. A disclaimer that is inconsistent with the intention or expectation of the parties may not be effective, as it may not reflect the true nature or purpose of the email communication. A disclaimer that is contrary to the established relationship or practice of the parties may not be effective, as it may not be in line with their previous dealings or conduct. A disclaimer that is contrary to public policy or good faith may not be effective, as it may be seen as illegal or immoral by a court.
Therefore, email signature disclaimers are not a guarantee of legal protection or immunity for organisations. They may have some legal value in some situations, but they may also have no legal effect in others. They should not be relied upon as a substitute for proper legal advice or due diligence. They should also not be used as a means of avoiding responsibility or accountability for email communication.
Email disclaimers are a common way for businesses to try to limit their liability for the content of their emails. However, there are a number of reasons why email disclaimers are unimportant and unenforceable.
Email disclaimers are often ignored by recipients
However, email disclaimers are often ignored by recipients for several reasons:
- They are too common or repetitive. Many organisations use email disclaimers as a standard practice, regardless of the content or context of the email. As a result, many recipients receive multiple emails with similar or identical disclaimers every day. This may cause them to become desensitized or indifferent to the disclaimers, as they see them as irrelevant or meaningless.
- They are too long or complex. Many email disclaimers are written in legal jargon or technical language that is difficult to understand or follow. They may also contain multiple clauses or sub-clauses that cover various scenarios or risks. This may cause recipients to lose interest or patience in reading the disclaimers, as they see them as confusing or tedious.
- They are too inconspicuous or inaccessible. Many email disclaimers are placed at the end of the email, after the main content and signature. They may also be formatted in small font size or light colour that makes them hard to read or notice. This may cause recipients to overlook or skip the disclaimers, as they see them as unimportant or hidden.
- They are too vague or ambiguous. Many email disclaimers use general and broad language that may not apply to the specific email content or context. They may also conflict with other terms or conditions that are implied by law or custom. This may cause recipients to disregard or challenge the disclaimers, as they see them as unclear or inconsistent.
Therefore, email disclaimers are often ignored by recipients because they do not attract their attention, interest, or respect. Recipients are more likely to focus on the content and purpose of the email than on the disclaimer at the bottom. Recipients may also question the validity and enforceability of the disclaimers, as they do not form valid contracts with the senders.
Email disclaimers are often not legally binding
Email disclaimers are often not legally binding because they do not meet the requirements for a valid contract. A contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more parties that creates mutual obligations and rights. To form a valid contract, there must be an offer, an acceptance, a consideration, an intention to create legal relations, and a certainty of terms.
Email disclaimers do not meet these requirements for several reasons:
- There is no offer or acceptance. An offer is a clear and definite proposal to enter into a contract that is communicated to the other party. An acceptance is a clear and definite agreement to the terms of the offer that is communicated to the offeror. Email disclaimers are not offers or acceptances, but unilateral statements that are imposed on the recipient without their consent or knowledge. Simply opening or reading an email is not the same as agreeing to its terms.
- There is no consideration. A consideration is something of value that is given or promised by each party to the contract. It can be money, goods, services, or anything else that has value. Email disclaimers do not involve any exchange of value between the parties. The sender does not give or promise anything to the recipient in return for their agreement to the disclaimer.
- There is no intention to create legal relations. An intention to create legal relations is a mutual understanding that the parties intend to be legally bound by their agreement. Email disclaimers do not show any intention to create legal relations, but rather an intention to avoid legal relations. The sender does not want to be held liable for anything that may arise from the email communication.
- There is no certainty of terms. A certainty of terms is a clear and precise definition of the essential terms of the contract. Email disclaimers are often vague and ambiguous, as they use general and broad language that may not apply to the specific email content or context. They may also conflict with other terms or conditions that are implied by law or custom.
Therefore, email disclaimers are often not legally binding because they do not form valid contracts with the recipients. They are merely statements of wishful thinking that have no legal effect. They should not be relied upon as a substitute for proper legal advice or due diligence.
Even if a recipient does read an email disclaimer, there is no guarantee that it will be enforceable in court. Courts have generally held that email disclaimers are not enforceable because they are often vague and ambiguous.
Email disclaimers can actually backfire in several ways
- They can create a negative impression of the organisation. Email disclaimers may make the organisation look unprofessional or insecure, as they suggest that the organisation is not confident in its own email security or identity verification. They may also make the organisation look unfriendly or hostile, as they imply that the organisation does not trust or respect the recipient. This may damage the reputation and goodwill of the organisation in the eyes of external recipients.
- They can reduce the response and engagement rate of the emails. Email disclaimers may discourage external recipients from opening, reading, or replying to the emails, as they may perceive them as risky, spammy, or irrelevant. They may also distract external recipients from the actual content or purpose of the emails, as they may focus more on the disclaimer than on the message. This may reduce the response and engagement rate of the emails, which could affect the marketing, sales, or communication goals of the organisation.
- They can increase the liability of the organisation. Email disclaimers may not protect the organisation from liability, but rather expose it to more liability. For example, if an organisation sends an email with a disclaimer that it is not responsible for the accuracy of the information in the email, and the information in the email is inaccurate, then the organisation may be held liable for negligence or misrepresentation. Similarly, if an organisation sends an email with a disclaimer that it is not liable for any viruses or malware transmitted via email, and the email contains a virus or malware that infects the recipient’s device or network, then the organisation may be held liable for breach of duty of care or damage to property.
Therefore, email disclaimers can actually backfire and have adverse effects on the organisation that uses them. They may not only be unimportant and unenforceable, but also counterproductive and harmful. They should not be relied upon as a substitute for proper legal advice or due diligence. They should also not be used as a means of avoiding responsibility or accountability for email communication.
email signature legal disclaimers are bad for the environment
Email signature legal disclaimers are bad for the environment for several reasons, such as:
- They increase the carbon footprint of emails. Email signature legal disclaimers add extra text and bytes to the email content. This means that more energy and resources are required to send, store, and display the emails. According to a study by McAfee1, an average email has a carbon footprint of 4 grams of CO2 equivalent (CO2e), but this can increase by up to 50% if it has a long and complex signature. The study estimates that the global annual footprint of spam emails is equivalent to 3.1 million passenger cars using 2 billion gallons of gasoline1.
- They encourage paper consumption and waste. Email signature legal disclaimers may have the opposite effect of what they intend to achieve. Some disclaimers include messages that ask the recipients to consider the environment before printing the emails or documents. However, these messages may actually increase paper consumption and waste, as they may trigger a psychological phenomenon called reactance2. Reactance is a negative emotional response to perceived threats to one’s freedom or autonomy. When people see these messages, they may feel that their freedom to print is being challenged or restricted, and they may react by printing more than they would otherwise2. Moreover, these messages may also increase paper waste, as they add extra pages to the printed documents.
- They create a false sense of environmental responsibility. Email signature legal disclaimers may create a false sense of environmental responsibility among the senders and recipients. They may make them feel that they are doing something good for the environment by adding or reading these disclaimers, while ignoring other more effective and meaningful actions that they could take. For example, they may not consider reducing their email frequency or volume, using renewable energy sources, recycling paper and ink cartridges, or supporting environmental causes or organisations.
Therefore, email signature legal disclaimers are bad for the environment because they do not reduce their environmental impact, but rather increase it. They may also have negative psychological and behavioural effects on the senders and recipients. A better way to promote environmental awareness and responsibility is to lead by example and adopt sustainable practices in your personal and professional life.
Email disclaimers assert that the recipient has consented to a contract based on only the receipt of the message. This is a problem because, as with any legally binding contract, both parties must agree to its terms. Simply opening or reading a message is not the same as approving what is inside. For this reason, typically email confidentiality disclaimer warnings carry no legal weight.
The now famous article from the Economist on legal disclaimers titled Spare us the e-mail yada-yada which states “Automatic e-mail footers are not just annoying. They are legally useless” dates back to Apr 7th 2011.
The seeds of descent have been raging for over a decade. See these other articles referring to the useless nature of email legal disclaimers:
By reading this, you agree to stop adding useless disclaimers
John Naughton Jan 2009
“The practice is now so widespread that most of us have become inured to it.”
The Disclaimers Companies Put in Their Email Signatures Are Often Legally Meaningless
Robert Quigley Apr 2011
“If so many email legal disclaimers are useless or miswritten, why, then, do they proliferate?”
Disclaimers in Email Signatures are Not Just Annoying, But Legally Meaningless
Whitson Gordon Nov 2011
“you can probably get rid of them—you’ll make all your contacts a whole lot happier”
Are Email Disclaimers Meaningless?
Dan Ralls Dec 2015
“How much legal weight? None, practically speaking.”
Ridiculous email disclaimers
Without Bullshit October 16, 2015
It’s logically freaky. The disclaimer says the email can only be read by the intended recipient. I’m not the intended recipient. The only way I know about that threat is because I read the email — which the disclaimer prohibits!
Let’s Have a Confidential Talk About Those Email Disclaimers
Ryan Anderson June 2019
“email disclaimers don’t seem to make much of an impact in court”
Email Confidentiality Disclaimers: Annoying but Are They Legally Binding?
Brett Cenkus Aug 2021
“the recipient is free to do what they want with your email”
The Emperor’s New disclaimers
Strangely people still persist in using email legal disclaimers. Legal departments and business lawyers see them used in others companies email signatures and carry on believing that they must be important. They probably deduce “Well if that company is using them, then we must use them”. As extending an email signature with the disclaimer appears to be zero cost, lawyers and legal departments of companies tend to say something like “include it anyway in the company email signature, as there’s nothing to lose“. But there are actually two costs one is to the user (the email recipient) and the other cost to the environment. Legal departments never going to say don’t include it, because they think they need to cover themselves.
The recipient of emails with long legal disclaimers, or even worse long email chains which have the email disclaimers attached to every reply, have to deal with scrolling through so much extra clutter just to re-read the thread of an email.
Also by adding this extra, unnecessary data to every outgoing email adds to the size of the email files being sent, stored, copied, forwarded and backed up on servers and personal devices. There is an environmental impact to this.
See also:Read more: Do I need a legal disclaimer in my email signature?