Please Please Please Read This and Stop Sending me this Crap

The Economist talks about something which is obvious to anyone with any idea about how contracts, confidentiality, and copyrights work:

Automatic e-mail footers are not just annoying. They are legally useless

Here’s one I just yanked out of my inbox:

This email and any files transmitted with it are intended solely for the use of the individual and/or entity to whom it is addressed. Unless noted otherwise above, any distribution or copying of this email is strictly prohibited. This email IS NOT a binding agreement on behalf of [big company]. If you have received this message in error, please immediately notify the sender and delete this message from your computer.

There are several things in these (and this is pretty typical of the ones I receive) that annoy the crap out of me.

  • This email and any files transmitted with it are intended solely for the use of the individual and/or entity to whom it is addressed. Unless noted otherwise above, any distribution or copying of this email is strictly prohibited

This demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of how email works. I’m sorry, but every time you hit send on your email program, there are at least six copies being made, perhaps more, and only four of those are under the control of either the sender or the recipient. I’m not going to get into the “Unless noted otherwise above…” item. It’s too ridiculous to talk about. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

  • This email IS NOT a binding agreement on behalf of [big company]

Actually, if anyone’s been paying attention, it’s perfectly capable of having a binding agreement over email. Does [big company] expect anyone to edit their signature anytime an agreement is being made?

  • …please notify sender immediately

I’m often tempted to set up an autoreply that responds to any emails with these keywords and explains that it was missent, that the sender was responsible for tracking down all copies of the email and having them deleted, and that I was holding them reponsible for any lawsuits and liabilities that arose out of their error. However, that wouldn’t be a good thing to do in a business environment.

These things aren’t any big deal. Everybody, including myself, ignores them regularly. However, they inject grit into the gears of smooth process. Do yourself a favor, and just have a signature with your name, your key contact information (including email, even if that seems stupid) and that’s it. Short and to the point. I’ll appreciate it.

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