Do I need a legal disclaimer in my email signature?

As far as our research leads us to believe, email disclaimers are not legally binding and so are pointless. It’s hard to believe as you see them all the time and usually the larger the organisation, the larger the legal disclaimer in the footer of the email.

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.

Please consider the environment

Power consumption hurts the environment. Extra text in every email is being stored on servers around the world. By making your email signature longer than it needs to be, you are in fact doing harm to the environment. As we can see in this article in 2014 by Jeff Bennion: ‘Please Consider the Environment Before Printing’ Email Signatures Are Hurting the Environment

A disclaimer creates a .3 kb file size difference. Now, if every business email had that at the bottom, that would be 27,000,000,000 kb a day of data, or 27,000 gb of useless data being added every day to internet storage servers.

Please consider the environment before printing this document

Don’t print! I’m greener than you

Even worse still are the emails signatures which include the above “please consider the environment before printing this” message (or graphic).

  • Nobody prints emails anyway because it’s not the 1990s anymore
  • And if they are printing them, they obviously shouldn’t be
  • These messages are arrogant and condescending, assuming that the sender cares more for the environment but…
  • By adding more data to your email signature it is actually bad for environment for the same reasons stated above; that it uses more data.

Our rivals Wisestamp are actually promoting green email signature footers here! They have a whole page on how great they are. But are in fact doing the exact opposite of what they are intended to do. The act of adding this to your email signature footer / disclaimer is worse for the environment because of the extra data sent, and this is compounded even more if it’s a green tree graphic image this uses even more data!

There is even a website set up to promote this!

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