Can I Publish an Email in a Blog Post?

Letter of Intent by Nick Ares, Ruth Carter, Carter Law Firm

Letter of Intent by Nick Ares

My friend in California recently contacted me and said that he received an email from a professional association he belong to and that he wanted to share it in a blog post along with his response. As an Arizona attorney, I can’t provide legal advice to California clients, but it made me think about what potential legal repercussions I could face if I wanted to publish an email in a blog.

Defamation
Defamation usually involves making a false statement about a person or entity to a third party that damages their reputation. Publishing a blog post is definitely a communication to a third party, but there’s no false statement if you publish the email as it was written and if your response contains your true reaction to the message.

Public Disclosure of Private Facts
Public disclosure of private facts is an invasion of privacy claim where you tell the truth about a person but you release information that a reasonable person would expect you to keep confidential and they would be highly offended if you shared it. This is the type of claim you could face if you break up with your significant other and release the sex tape you made during your relationship.

In terms of publishing an email I received, I’d review the message and the association’s rules to see if communications need to be regarded as confidential. If not, I probably wouldn’t hesitate to republish it in a blog because there’s probably nothing in it that would be high offensive to share with others.

False Light
False light is a claim where you’re accused to telling the truth about someone but you manipulate it in a way that suggests something that is false. If I were going to republish an email, I’d probably publish the entire message to avoid being accused to manipulating the message to make the person look worse than they are.

These legal claims are all state law claims. If I publish an email written to me by a person or on behalf of an organization and they get pissed at me, they’re going to sue me where they live. I’d have to check the exact verbiage of these laws in that state, not just my home state. I prefer  to not set myself up to be sued across the country and have to go there to defend myself.

EDIT: My lawyer friend reminded me of one more claim you have to think about if you’re going to publish an email in a blog post: Copyright Infringement.
The person who wrote the email likely has copyright rights in their verbiage, include the right to decide where it’s reproduced and displayed. Most people don’t register their copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office, so if you wait three months to publish your blog post, they can only come after you for their actual damages, which will probably be lower than statutory damages. In some cases, they could still get a decent settlement.

And as always, if you’re going to push the envelope with your blog posts, it’s easier and cheaper to consult a lawyer (like me!) in advance than to have to hire one after you’ve been sued and you have to defend yourself.

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Comments

  1. Or you could just ask permission….

    • That works too.

      A lot of the time a person wants to publish a response to an email in a post because they’re not happy with the source of the email. In those cases, the person who sent the email may not want you to bring attention to them on your blog.

  2. I have a question:

    If I were to publish a free ebook of email correspondence between my ex-husband and myself spanning our 5 year marriage, plus his text message correspondence with about a dozen women he had affairs with, and a few emails from his mom and sister confirming the abuse and adultery that took place in our marriage, would that be illegal?

    The purpose of the book would be in the general interest of others because he is so charming and convincing that he is normal, but our marriage involved a lot of terrible things such as the time he butchered a cat in our bathroom. I feel that others need to be warned and the truth needs to be findable on Google to protect other people. I’m convinced he is a sociopath, but can not prove it, and he has fooled so many people because he truly does tell the best apologies while never changing a thing.

    • I recommend you consult an attorney in your community before publishing your book for all the legal reasons listed in my post. I know there are books where authors publish their correspondence, but those are usually comedic books. You want to be careful in your situation that you don’t set yourself up to be sued. If you were going through a publisher, they might require you to get a release from your ex-husband before they would take the risk of publishing your book.

  3. Ginger Fires says:

    I’m on the opposite end of this scenario. I saw a post on Facebook where a prominent activist incorrectly inferred a couple had killed their adoptive children when in actuality the husband killed the entire family including the wife. I messaged the poster via Facebook email – to keep the conversation private. The poster unfortunately was irrational. The poster then blocked me and then posted the majority of our email correspondence with some minor edits and leaving out her original post that gave the entire debate it’s contexts. I then subsequently received some negative emails and there was a litany of commenters who had many horrible things to say about me.

    Facebook is such a maze I’ve tried to report the post with no success. There’s no red flag apparently – there’s no offensive photo or foul language – by my full name is disclosed and a majority of my words.

    Is anything unlawfully done here?

  4. I came across this post while searching fruitlessly to try to learn if i can share a photo of a handwritten note that was used in extortion. The note sums up clearly made up numbers, where a white collar professional amateurishly cleaned their own apartment which they subletted to me (also deceiving their landlord) and charged me with their hourly rate for what they said was 12 hours of cleaning. The extortion was that the person threatened if I did not pay, they would bring in contractors to assess a scratch in the wood floor that they said was made by me (no proof of this, and there was another occupant) and send me the much higher bill. This person now works for a prominent presidential candidate, and I want to know if sending the photo of the note they wrote (not false information) with a description of the transaction that occurred and threat that was made constitutes libel. It’s true and factual, and it’s a reproduction of their own writing. I understand that extortion can occur even if the threat involved does not describe criminal action, but merely the threat to incur greater financial costs. This person also had no right to make this threat, given they were subletting out of their own lease agreement, and the sublet contract did not include promises to provide additional funds beyond the deposit. I do not want to file a police report, and know this is a civil matter at best, and do not even want to sue. I do however want the politician (or his campaign) to be made aware of this person’s character.

    • Ruth Carter says:

      Hey Michael – Sounds like you need to examine the state laws that apply to your situation, perhaps consult a lawyer to determine the best way to address this situation.

  5. Can you post email exchanges on a company yelp or Glassdoor between you and your ex boss that show his inability to communicate or treat disabled people?

    • Ruth Carter says:

      The same issues that apply to posting a copy of an email on a blog post apply to posting an email on any other website.

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  1. […] complicated. If you wait three months after the e-mail was written, you can only be sued for actual damages–assuming the use of the material in the e-mail doesn’t qualify as fair […]

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