If an email I received mentions that copying or forwarding the email is forbidden, can I still legally do so?

For example, here is a typical disclaimer some of the emails I received contain:

If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, or the employee or agent responsible for delivery to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution, or copying of this communication is STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

Is that prohibition legally enforceable in the United States?

If state-specific, I am mostly interested in the case where I am located in California, New York or Massachusetts.


The purpose of this disclaimer is to inform you that you have received the message in confidence. Disclosing a confidence is a tort snd you can be successfully sued (AFAIK in all common law jurisdictions).

However, while being aware (either by being explicitly told as here or by implication) the information is confidential is a necessary condition, it is not a sufficient condition - the actual contents of the email must actually be confidential, that is, not public knowledge and with distribution reasonably controlled.

Additionally, there are copyright considerations - an email is someone's copyright and by telling you you can't forward it (which would, of necessity, make a copy, unless you deleted your copy at the same time) they are protecting their copyright.

  • This doesn't smell right. If someone sends me a physical letter with conditions I haven't agreed to, I'm under no obligation to obey them, and with only rare exceptions I can freely share it. I don't know any reason email would be different. This may be a United States thing, though; I can easily see 'disclosing a confidence' being an offense in England or Australia. – Ask About Monica Nov 7 '16 at 16:40
  • Telling someone about the contents of the email wouldn't be copyright infringement. And if I received the email, then there is a strong argument that distribution was not reasonably controlled. – gnasher729 Nov 8 '16 at 9:28
  • On the other hand, if my bank sends me the addresses of 25,000 customers (which has happened in the UK before emails, where someone got a ton of printouts delivered to their door by mistake), there might be completely independent laws that would make it illegal to use or distribute that information. – gnasher729 Nov 8 '16 at 9:31

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