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Suppose I have a message in my email client with full headers, but the message isn't available in Gmail anymore. In a copyright infringement dispute or something similar, can that message be used as some kind of proof? Can headers prove that the message and its content are legitimate?

  • No, headers alone cannot prove anything, as they are simply lines of text in a text file - they can be whipped up in any text editor. What you would need to do is get confirmation from Google that the message is authentic. – user4210 Mar 23 '19 at 4:49
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    @Moo respectful, I disagree, in court, anything that strikes the interest of opposing counsel can be submitted into the record as evidence (Example: opposing counsel, "is it true that on (this date) you sent an email title (something incriminating)". The Defendant, "No, it isn't true". opposing counsel, "Then how is there a record of it in your list of e-mail?"). – User37849012643 Mar 23 '19 at 11:19
  • @Moo Copyright infringement cases are governed under common law, which means that copyright infringement cases have the right to a trial by jury. During a jury trial, all pieces of relevant evidence that are damning (makes the Defendant look bad), will be used to discredit the defendant in the eyes of the jury, either that be hearsay or a title recovered during e-discovery. – User37849012643 Mar 23 '19 at 11:32
  • @Moo the text of an email alone does not prove anything, but testimony can establish it as a valid copy of a transmission actually sent and received. See my answer.. – David Siegel Mar 23 '19 at 16:58
  • @Moo: An exception would be if the message carried a digital signature which validated using an undisputed public key of the alleged sender. Then the message would contain proof of its own authenticity, since it could only have been prepared by someone possessing the matching.private key. – Ben Voigt Mar 23 '19 at 17:28
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YES

Most people overlook the statement “everything on the internet is forever”, but in the modern age, this is a reality. During discovery it isn’t uncommon for opposing counsel to request large amounts of e-mail documentation, including documentation that has been deleted, but is still stored on the server of the email provider or in the meta-data from the computer being analyzed (email recovery is usually done by a third party, professionals at data recovery).

Under Rule 26 of the Federal rules of civil proceeding, electronic documentation is categorized under the same rules that govern paper documentation during discovery.

Can it be used?

This is a tricky question to answer because the answer is, yes, it CAN be used, but WILL it be used depends on if there was a successful motion filed with the court to suppress this evidence.

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YES

More exactly, it can be offered in evidence. As the answer by @StephanS says, it may well be possible to establish that the email was sent by various recovery methods, which are frequently used in legal cases. But even if it were impossible to establish through third-party sources that the email was authentic, it could be offered based on testimony by the party offering it that it was actually sent. Such testimony might or might not be believed, just like all testimony. But it can be offered. Admissibility would be subject to rulings by the Judge, of course.

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