Even though the Internet/Web is publicly accessible, contrary to popular assumption it is not a “public domain” environment.
noun: public domain; plural noun: public domains
The state of belonging or being available to the public as a whole, and therefore not subject to copyright.
I’ve had many clients over the years that have tried to use photos and text from other sites. They assumed “public domain” and they found out the hard way.
Some were fined for using photos they had no permission to use and had to cough-up some pretty hefty fees. Some were even shut down when the copyright holders filed a formal DMCA complaint with their hosting company.
The same applies to e-mail.
Now with Blogging being so popular and a way to vent opinions, many think they can post e-mails sent to them privately on their sites. Newbie bloggers also copy articles, blog posts or images and simply copy-n-paste them into their own Blog post because they can.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you do!
If you use another person’s creative work, whether it be an e-mail, graphic or blog post, you need to ask permission to do so first. Copyright is in place upon creation of that text or image. This post is copyright protected because I am the author/creator. The moment I created it, it became my copyright protected collateral.
If you e-mail me, my response is copyright protected. Just because I replied to you doesn’t provide tacit permission to repost my reply publicly without my permission.
The Process Matters
There is a standard and customary process if you find you want use to collateral created by someone else. It’s called asking first! This includes if you want to take an e-mail sent to you privately and make it public on your blog or social media.
You contact the author/creator and let them know you would like to use their work, where and how you are going to use it. That last part is very important. The copyright holder may not want their work used in the manner or venue in which you plan to do so.
TIP: When it comes to images or articles, throwing in the bait that you’ll link to their site in return will increase your chances of getting approval.
I don’t mind if onliners use my articles or content of my sites as long as they ask and give the proper references when they do. Rare is the case that providing a credit or some level of reference will not be required.
Even if you give “credit”, with or without a link, you still have to ask for permission. What if the creator/author doesn’t want their content on your site at all? That is their choice to make.
E-mails, Graphics or Text — No Matter
Too many think the web is too big for copyright holders to find out. Believe that at your own peril. That’s a misnomer. There are in fact ways to track your content and images. I discover swiped images and content of mine all the time. I then do not hesitate to file DMCA complaints with all their providers (Domain Registrar, CDN, Web Host).
As far as the dissemination of private e-mails — besides the copyright issue — to do so is simply bad form. Beyond the lack of ethics and trust that forwarding or making public an e-mail that was sent to you privately will imply, here again, copyright is still in full force.
The bottom line is you do not use, post, forward or copy anything created by someone else without their permission to do so.
Check out my article on the topic:
Online Copyright Myths for more info and govern yourself accordingly.