I emailed messages to a particular business that were replied to with the business having consistently giving rude and just-don't-care-about-the-customer responses and even grossly incompetent responses.

So am I allowed to show these emails say in a youtube video meaning right when I open my email account and have the emails open?

Am I only allowed to quote what the emails said in order to avoid some copyright violation or other law?


Technically speaking, such emails are copyrighted by the sender. However, showing such an email to a third party, or posting it publicly in order to comment on it would almost surely be a fair use in the US. In any case, such an email would have no commercial value, and so there would be no financial damages possible. A lawsuit over such a technical copyright infringement would, in my view, be quite unlikely, and even less likely to be successful. Indeed, filing such a suit would be one of the best ways for the business to draw attention to the issue, in an example of the Streisand Effect.


I will assume that you are in a jurisdiction of the U.S. Also, please note that your issue has nothing to do with copyright violations.

am I allowed to show these emails say in a youtube video meaning right when I open my email account and have the emails open?

Yes. In fact, showing the emails will be more effective (1) in terms of credibility of your denouncement on Youtube, and (2) to dissuade the company about bringing --or threatening to bring-- judicial proceedings against you for defamation. The latter because truth is an absolute defense in defamation lawsuits. By disclosing the emails you pre-empt the company's opportunity to allege that you "falsified" or "distorted" the company's statements.

  • Actually copyright is a key issue here. Even if the emails were defamatory (and they could be if the recipient had altered them) it would not be illegal to publish them, although it might possibly lead to tort liability for defamation. But copyright infringement can in proper cases be enjoined (forbidden by court order) – David Siegel Jan 16 at 0:05
  • @DavidSiegel You are misunderstanding the OP's intent and much of my answer. (1) The issue is not whether the company's emails themselves are defamatory: They are the company's rude and incompetent responses, and the OP rightly intends to share them with the public. Publishing them 'as is' is likelier to forestall the company's temptation to sue him for defamation. Nowhere does the OP say he plans on altering them. (2) Not everything an entity says is proper matter for copyright lawsuits. A company would need to be extremely inept to defend the "creativity" or originality of its rude emails. – Iñaki Viggers Jan 16 at 11:55
  • Actrually @Iñaki Viggers I think that I understand the OPs intet quite well. I also understand your answer, and your comment just now. I simply disagree with much of it, and I don't think you really addressed the concerns that the OP had. – David Siegel Jan 16 at 14:38
  • @DavidSiegel The OP's question is how to divulge the company's inappropriate communications without incurring copyright violations. By clarifying that his situation has nothing to do with copyright I am certainly addressing his concern, even if your opinion of the topic is different. To illustrate this more clearly: A terrorist's variant of "Allah akbar" is not proper matter for copyright lawsuit. More important is the OP's plausible unawareness of a likelier ramification: the company's possible temptation to intimidate/sue him under pretext of defamation. Hence my focus on that aspect. – Iñaki Viggers Jan 16 at 15:31
  • Not so. The question is about whether distributing the emails (as opposed to describing them) is illegal. (If the question had been about how to divulge, it would be for specific advice, & so off-topic.) The only plausible way in which that could be illegal is via a copyright suit. The company's "rude" emails are probably original enough to have copyright protection -- that bar is quite low. As emails are all too easy to forge, displaying a screen image of them on Youtube would not prevent the company from claiming such distortion, although it might deter such a claim. – David Siegel Jan 18 at 23:29

It's may be illegal to publish these emails if (a) they were not intended for you, so you have no right to the contents. And it may be illegal to publish these emails if they contain information that is illegal to publish no matter where they come from (if I send you an email with instructions how to build a bomb to kill people, it's very likely illegal for you to re-publish this).

In your case, the email was intended for you (not sent accidentally), and it is legal to inform the public truthfully how the company behaved towards you.

  • Why would it be illegal to publish emails not intended for you (assuming they were sent to you in error?) – davidgo Jan 16 at 4:12
  • @davidgo Normally it wouldn't. Those "This is a confidential message, do not read if you are not the addressee" notices some emails carry are largely bluff, not enforceable. One can't bind a third party who never agreed to confidentiality unless there is some law imposing it, and in the general case there is not. – David Siegel Jan 16 at 4:16
  • @DavidSiegel that is my understanding too. I wonder what gnasher729 understands. – davidgo Jan 16 at 4:20

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