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Conditions of Sending Email

Update: Due to the popularity of this post I have created a T-Shirt and put it on sale at http://www.cafepress.com/email_eula .

Update: Unlike most of my blog content I permit anyone to copy most or all of this post for commercial use (this includes blogs with google advertising) as long as they correctly identify me as the author. Usually I only allow such mirroring for non-commercial sites.

Update: I now have a copy of this post at http://doc.coker.com.au/legal/conditions-email/ which I will modify if necessary.

I have previously written about using a SMTP protocol level disclaimer to trump any legalistic sigs [1].

The conditions of sending mail to my server are now as follows:

  1. A signature will in no way restrict my use of your message. You sent the message to me because you want me to read it (it was not mis-sent, my mail server does not accept mis-addressed mail). I will keep the message as long as I like either deliberately or because I forgot to delete it.
  2. I reserve the right to publish any email that is threatening (including any threats of legal action). I don’t like being threatened and part of my defence is to publish such threats at an appropriate time. Anyone who is considering the possibility of threatening me should consider when their threat may re-appear.
  3. I reserve the right to publish any email that is abusive/profane, is a confession of criminal or unethical behaviour, or is evidence that the sender is a liar or insane.
  4. I reserve the right to forward all amusing email to my friends for their enjoyment.

My mail server will now provide the URL of this page to everyone who connects at the first stage of the SMTP protocol. When a mail server continues the connection that indicates acceptance of these conditions.

This doesn’t mean that I wildly forward email and business discussions are kept confidential of course. I expect that most people don’t keep mail secret when it matches the conditions in my list above, unlike most people I’m publishing the list of reasons.

20 comments to Conditions of Sending Email

  • I doubt that has any legal value, considering that no human will see that disclaimer in most cases.

  • etbe

    Antti: You may be correct, but if so all those Microsoft EULAs which are inside sealed packages at the time of purchase would also be invalid, and the legalistic signatures on email would be invalid too.

  • niq

    I like it.

    For the benefit of the lazy, would you be happy for other people (e.g. me) to configure mailservers to point at this URL for T&Cs?

  • etbe

    niq: Sure!

    For the benefit of others, please comment on this post if you configure your mail server in such a manner. I expect that more people will read this post than generally read SMTP protocol messages.

    smtpd_banner = $myhostname ESMTP $mail_name – by sending email to this server you agree to the conditions at this URL: http://etbe.coker.com.au/2007/11/20/conditions-of-sending-email/

    The above (on a single line in main.cf) is the Postfix configuration for doing this.

  • I haven’t bought shrink-wrapped software in ages, but IIRC they had an inner seal you didn’t need to break in order to read the license, and if you didn’t accept, that was a valid reason to return the package (with the inner seal intact) to the vendor. I have, on the other hand, bought laptops with Windows pre-installed, and when you boot them up the first time, they display the license and you have to accept it before you get any further. If you don’t, it shuts the system down. (I never accept, as I install Debian eventually in any case.)

    I doubt that a shrink-wrap license where the license requires acceptance (by breaking an outer seal, for example) before it can physically be read is a valid contract. But then again, as the GPL points out, if you don’t accept the contract, the copyrights are reserved. Finnish copyright law allows you to use the program if you have obtained a copy of it in a legal way, regardless of if you have accepted any license contract, but I believe not all countries have a similar statute. In such countries, you are screwed.

    Similarly, I doubt that the signatures are valid contracts. They might, however, summarise and remind the reader of a valid pre-existing legal requirement (set by a law, for example). Or they might just be wishful thinking, or they might attempt to make people think (without cause) that they are valid legal requirements.

    (Why is it, BTW, that your blog frequently takes ages to respond to a HTTP request?)

  • one up here.
    I use sendmail. I mean, no, Sendmail uses me. The change I made goes in sendmail.cf editing line looking like:
    O SmtpGreetingMessage

    saludos,

  • niq

    Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho, does the fact that my eyesight isn’t up to reading poorly-contrasting smallprint on a shiny surface mean I’m exempt from shrinkwrap contracts? The idea that a recipient could be expected to read and accept them is at best dubious.

  • Niq:

    I am not a lawyer. If you need specific legal advice, contact a lawyer who is competent in a relevant jurisdiction.

    That said, it’s best to remember that no legal stuff is meaningful until and unless someone tries to enforce it. You could for example be sued by the copyright holder for copyright infringement or breach of contract. They need to prove some stuff to make it a valid claim, and you would then need to prove some other stuff to avoid being found liable (or guilty, if it is a criminal case).

    In general, it is impossible to say anything about the relevance of your eyesight, but in a specific case, depending on the facts of the case, you might be able to use it to prove that you did not bind yourself to a particular contract (never having consented to it), and thus that contract does not bind you (or the other party). For example, that contract might be the Microsoft shrink-wrap license, if the facts favor you.

    But if you don’t have a contract, if you actually have used the software, you need some other means to prove that you had the legal right to use it. In Finland, you could refer to the Copyright Act permission to use a legally obtained program, but this defense may not be available to you where you live.

    To summarise: argue specifics, not generics, and ask a lawyer if it really matters.

  • Thanks for the great idea and the willingness to share! I’ve added it to my postfix config for my servers.

  • [...] This guy is a genius. His SMTP server has a customised welcome message which includes a URL to a page of disclaimers that override any of those stupid signature disclaimer messages. [...]

  • Nathan

    I don’t know about the legality, but it sure is funny. I’m going to add it to my SMTP server :-)

  • Bob

    Brilliant! Thanks for the chuckle.

  • Rus, you’ve made the big time, you’re on BoingBoing ;-)

  • [...] Cocker over at etbe.coker.com.au has an interesting post on changing SMTP welcome messages to display disclaimers. After initiating an SMTP session with his mail server, it points the client to a URL with the [...]

  • [...] Best terms-of-use agreement ever? (via boingboing) [...]

  • etbe

    http://www.algorithm.com.au/blog/files/email-disclaimers.php

    Andre Pang wrote an interesting response, he has a legalistic message related to reading his blog as satire of the email EULAs.