Here are some questions you have to ask before re-using materials that have been sent to you by e-mail:
- Is the message being sent to you as a personal
message? If so, you will in any case have to ask the sender's
permission to use it elsewhere, since it is as protected by copyright
as a personal letter.
- If it is a personal message, you need to consider the
issue of privacy - you might be violating the sender's right to
privacy. Another reason to ask permission.
- If you are receiving the information on a list, your position
may be safer, since the work has already been "broadcast"
or "communicated to the public" (most list archives are searchable
on the Internet), but I would still make the effort formally to clear
the rights before republishing the work in a commercial
publication of any kind.
- Has the sender asserted that the contents of the message (joke, article, etc.)
are his/her own work? If not, just because someone else has done
the original "borrowing" of copyright material does not save you from
the charge of abetting the offence by disseminating it further.
- If the sender is simply re-sending material picked up elsewhere,
you should be very careful. The materials may have been sent to
you as a part of a personal communication, but it is quite a different
thing if you, in turn, send it further to a list, or onto a website or
re-publish it elsewhere. You have no certainty that the sender
has cleared the rights for such use, and you should therefore
either try to clear them yourself, or ask the sender to secure the
There is actually quite a body of law that applies to the Internet.
Don't believe that you are immune out there or that "it is still vague".
Thanks to Christopher Zielinski of the UK for these comments.