E-mail - "published" or not?

Subject: E-mail - "published" or not?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Nancy Johnson'" <NancyJ -at- photoworks -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 15 Sep 2000 08:37:18 -0400

Nancy Johnson wonders: <<If an e-mail is sent from a personal computer to a
variety of people, in various countries as well as the US, is it considered
'published electronically' with regular publication rights/issues? Or Is ANY
e-mail considered 'published' as soon as it leaves the author's computer? >>

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office, which follows the same
international copyright conventions as most first-world nations, includes
the following as copyrightable information: ""books, pamphlets, poems and
other works consisting of text, and computer programs" and "communication
signals: broadcasters have copyrights in the communications signals that are
broadcast". To me, that makes it pretty clearcut: as soon as you write it,
it's copyrighted, with all the protections afforded to you under copyright
law. Adding a (C) to each message would help remind people that your message
is copyrighted, but that's not required under copyright law.

Of course, nothing is ever so simple. First, if you're writing at work, a
good lawyer could make a case for the writing being part of the "work for
hire" agreement with your employer, and thus copyright would belong to your
employer. Second, any discussion group (as opposed to an e-zine or
newsletter, which are not "discussions") could easily be considered to be
speech in a "public forum", in which case copyright laws would be replaced
by the laws on quoting another person correctly and providing proper
attribution. (I suspect that this _doesn't_ outweigh the original conditions
for copyright, but this issue is being debated now, and I'm not sure that a
clear jurisprudence has been established.) Third, which country's copyright
laws apply? I'd speculate that the laws of the country in which the writer
was physically present at the time of writing would apply, but a sharp legal
mind might make a strong case for the location of the server that forwards
the message being more important, since copyright law does make reference to
"fixed in tangible form"; if the e-mail never resides on your computer's
hard disk, it could be argued (I'd hope unsuccessfully) that the server's
hard disk is the first time the message is fixed in tangible form.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer




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