John Rouillard writes:
> >So, my questions are:
> > are e-mail discussions like published comments?
> Your question is a bit of a red herring. The question should be:
> can something I say/write be cited
> Arguably yes. For example I can cite personnel letters (email or US
> mail) sent to me in articles. I can also cite discussions (whether
> they be in a bar or not). Also, I can cite talks/presentations in my
> papers. I think all aspects of citing email list traffic are covered
> under one of the above citation issues.
Oh, absolutely. I have seen citations to e-mail messages and Usenet
articles for quite a while in various journals and proceedings. Even
private mail messages, e.g.,
Blowhardt, Dale Q., private electronic communication, July 25, 1992.
Obviously this has precious little cite value, but at least one cannot
accuse the author of having made up the whole thing.
> > what is an accepted way to cite them?
> Check out the American Library Association citation standards manual
> (I think that is it. Ask a local reference librarian). I would follow
> the cite format for private letters, or a conversation. One that I
> have seen looks like:
> Rouillard, John P., "Re: citations/copyrights of ...", via
> electronic mail on the <list> mailing list, 16:44EDT,
> September 26, 1994.
> Some of them have the email message id in place of the time
> stamp. The problem with email is that a simple date identifier may not
> be sufficient to distinguish a given message.
Gotta have that Message-ID! It's really the only unambiguous, unique
identifier of a message that exists. The date and source are
important, not only to place the reference at a particular epoch, but
to assist the researcher in locating the reference by searching an
archive. So the date and source need to be there, and also the
Message-ID to nail down the specific message. I would also like to
encourage the use of URLs, but only where the URL references an
archival location and can specifically identify an individual
> > are they automatically copyrighted or can they be copyrighted?
> You can put a copyright in your message, but I am not sure what rules
> pertain in the absense of a copyright message. Then again, I am not
> positive that the copyright message is necessarily binding.
In the USA and other signatories of the Berne Convention, it is "born
copyrighted" when published, even without notice; notice is
recommended both as a formality and to enforce certain specific
BUT, copyright only restricts *copying*, and does not, in the absence of
other legal relationships, restrict in any way the disclosure of
information contained in copyrighted work. One may paraphrase,
reword, summarize, etc., with impunity. And the doctrine of Fair Use
protects, at least in the USA, quotation for academic and research
purposes, within farily broad limitations.
> > is there such a thing as being liable for what one says on the net?
> I would think that slander laws etc still apply. I can't cite any case
> references, but I see no reason they shouldn't apply to this email
> media as well as to other print media.
There is precious little case law. The real issues are probably
whether e-mail to a small group comprises "publication" for defamation
purposes, and if so, how small a group? There are also a lot of
privilege questions, ranging from intra-company mailing lists to
qualified privilege for bonafide reviewers, etc. And there is a big
issue about public figures -- does "public figure" status attach to
plaintiffs who are mostly unknown, but have a Net reputation? Perhaps
the most important issue is whether defamation-by-electronic-
communication constitutes libel or slander. (The former applies to
*written* communications, the latter to spoken.) Libel is considered
more serious, and less easily corrected, since written words are
somewhat more permanent than spoken ones. Radio and TV defamation is
generally considered slander, despite the existence of audio/video
tape. The Net is largely a written-word medium, but has some of the
low-persistence characteristice of broadcast media. (All interesting
Michael C. Berch
List manager, lawyer, and magazine publisher. :-)
email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com