Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Revoking Email Posts

Dear Rich: I allowed someone to publish one of my e-mails. The other person asked permission to publish it. He said he wouldn't change the words. I simply said "yes, but make it anonymous". He published the email in segments and responded to each segment. Later he stopped protecting the anonymity of it. I've asked him to remove my email but he claims that because I gave him permission, he has full right to keep it on his website. When you give permission to someone to publish your copyrighted work (your email), you're granting a license. We're assuming that the license was made by exchange of email, and these emails form the terms of your license. 
The Terms of Your License. Your license sounds like it had only one condition: anonymity. Since the poster has now breached that condition, you have a right to revoke your license -- that is, have the email removed. If the poster is disregarding your request, you have to try a more forceful strategy. One approach may be to contact the other party's service provider and send a DMCA notice. (This book -- A Legal Guide to Web & Software Development -- explains how to do it.)  Another possibility is to hire an attorney to threaten the poster with a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement and invasion of privacy. 
Is It Worth the Effort? Keep in mind that hiring a lawyer or sending a DMCA notice should really only be used if the posted email is causing you some harm. These are not sure-fire strategies -- for example, the poster may assert valid copyright defenses -- and they prove expensive. The Dear Rich Staff realizes this may not be what you wanted to hear ... but sometimes the easiest approach may be to let go and move on.