by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
Recently a reader contacted me saying in part:
I work in a private school in Sydney - more than a year ago I sent an email outside the school and by accident cced it a member of staff. At the time this member of staff emailed me back - chastising me understandably and saying she would destroy the email - this she did not do.
Instead she printed it out and passed it on to another member of staff. Nothing happened for a year and then for a reason I am not aware of the email was passed on again to the headmistress and also to another member of staff.
The school's disclaimer which you sent me acknowledges that its staff can send purely personal emails (though it also makes clear that these are unauthorised by the school). As a result, there is a good argument that you retain the copyright in your email. Although not all email messages attract copyright protection, it is likely that yours does since you stated it is 21 pages long. If so, those who have copied and circulated the email without your authority have been breaching your copyright in the message.
You may also be able to argue that there has been a breach of confidentiality in your email, although a counter-argument could be made that the disclaimer does not apply to emails that are unauthorised by the school. However, it is also arguable that the person you first cc'd the email to who agreed to delete it, took on a separate duty of confidentiality that she breached by failing to delete the email and forwarding it on. And in any case, you can still rely on the copyright argument.