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Staff Emails Are Not Owned By Firms, UK Judge Rules 111

Qedward writes "A high court judge has ruled that companies do not have a general claim of ownership of the content contained in staff emails. The decision creates a potential legal minefield for the terms of staff contracts and an administrative nightmare for IT teams running email servers, back up and storage. The judge ruled businesses do not have an 'enforceable proprietary claim' to staff email content unless that content can be considered to be confidential information belonging to a business, unless business copyright applies to the content, or unless the business has a contractual right of ownership over the content. Justice Edwards-Stuart added it was 'quite impractical and unrealistic' to determine that ownership of the content of emails either belongs exclusively to the creator or the recipient of an email."
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Staff Emails Are Not Owned By Firms, UK Judge Rules

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  • Dear employees (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Friday November 09, 2012 @10:02AM (#41931221) Homepage Journal

    "unless the business has a contractual right of ownership over the content"

    We have this extra piece of paper for you to sign; do it or you're fired. Thanks!

  • by alphatel ( 1450715 ) * on Friday November 09, 2012 @10:02AM (#41931225)
    Having seen the content of several hundred thousand emails between employees, you do not want to own the content. It is 90% non-sense, 10% work-related and 33% "I can't wait until 5 O'Clock!"?
  • by Neil_Brown ( 1568845 ) on Friday November 09, 2012 @10:13AM (#41931325) Homepage

    If you create something for a company while being paid by the company, the company owns it,

    It's usually a little more nuanced than that.

    If you are talking about copyright, where a protectable work is made by an employee in the course of his employment, the employer is the owner. However, if you create the work as a contractor, the law makes you the first owner, although you may agree contractually to assign ownership to the company.

    For patents, ownership of an invention by an employee in the course of performance of his duties, where that employee's normal duties include the expectation of invention or else because the employee had a special duty to further the employer's interests, rests with the employer (although, where the invention is of "outstanding benefit", compensation may be payable to the employee notwithstanding that he is being paid to invent). Any other invention made by an employee is owned by the employee.

  • by cigawoot ( 1242378 ) on Friday November 09, 2012 @10:19AM (#41931393)

    Most emails written using a company's email system are done while on the clock. This makes these emails property of the company in my opinion.

    The company I work for also required that I sign a system access agreement, which includes that anything created (including emails) are the properly of the firm, period. Doesn't matter if you're killing time between calls to write lyrics to the song, technically those lyrics belong to the company if they're written using a firm-issued computer connected to the firm's network.

  • by aaarrrgggh ( 9205 ) on Friday November 09, 2012 @11:16AM (#41931927)

    How the hell do you do legal discovery data mining on email if it isn't the compan's property? This would be quite a mess for US companies trying to defend themselves.

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