Some Email Signatures Make Me Laugh

One of the things I like about bureaucracy is that it attempts to be fair and evenhanded.

This isn’t always a good thing – badly designed bureaucracies let people fall through the cracks. Bad design can be as cruel than nepotism and favoritism.

But, in general, a good system of rules includes this idea underneath it all:

Rules are applied equally and evenly, regardless of who you are.

In practice, it doesn’t always work that way. Putting aside human corruption and prejudice, someone who has the resources to hire a lawyer will probably fare better than someone who does not. Someone whose parents went to college will have that handed-down knowledge of how the system works, as opposed to a first generation college student.

This problem comes to a head with EULAs and Terms of Service. Particularly when it comes to the “shrinkwrap” some people put at the end of their emails. [1]

You’ve seen it before:

This message, including any attachments, is confidential. If you have received this e-mail in error, please alert the sender; delete the entire e-mail; and do not deliver, distribute, copy, disclose or take any action in reliance upon the information contained herein.

Actual boilerplate, used under Fair Use [2]

It’s utterly ridiculous to think that a paragraph of text in an otherwise ordinary email can suddenly limit your ability to take action based on the information in that email.

There’s the copyright/fair use dichotomy, sure. But again, that’s rules that exist outside of the actual message.

Which is why I really enjoy the anti-EULA and its variants. Mine is here: All it is is the exact same thing, except for one big difference: It releases you from all such bogus contracts.

Yeah, it’s totally laughable. Which is the point.

Again, let me reiterate this: The point is that neither “after-the-fact” restriction is enforceable.

Unlike a liability waiver (which is not always enforceable either), these stupid unilateral agreements are after the body of the message. So either these agreements are enforceable – and therefore the anti-EULA gets triggered – or they’re not, in which case the original boilerplate is not enforceable either.

Again, other rules or contracts may apply. But putting this in the signature of your email is just fine – as long as you accept what’s in the signature of mine.

Before you read it.

Featured Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

[1] This is different than, say, a HIPAA privacy requirement, or another contract or NDA that you may have signed outside of an email.

[2] Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act in 1976; Allowance is made for “Fair Use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use. All rights and credit go directly to its rightful owners. No copyright infringement intended.

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