I recently had a dispute with an online retailer. The customer service representative really showed their colors in the emails they sent to me. I then wanted to show a social media forum this interaction so I posted our entire email conversation. The retailer threatened to sue me of k didn’t remove the remarks. Have I broken the law or am I being bullied?

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    Where do you live, and where is the retailer?
    – Ron Trunk
    Apr 5 at 14:30
  • Both in United States of America. Retailer is in California I am from North Carolina
    – Ralph
    Apr 5 at 14:32
  • Typically this would be for audio conversations with you and the rep, but NC is a one party consent state, which means you can release recordings of private conversations that you are a party to without the approval of other parties.
    – hszmv
    Apr 5 at 14:43
  • @hszmv "this would be for audio conversations with you and the rep". The OP's communications with the retailer were by email. Apr 5 at 14:46
  • Which is why I didn't answer.
    – hszmv
    Apr 5 at 14:56

An email is protected by copyright, and cannot be lawfully distributes without permission., However, it could be quoted from fairly freely under fair use (in the US) or fair dealing (in many other countries). Particularly since most emails have no commercial market, so their value cannot be impaired, a fair use defesne is likely to prevail in many cases. Moreover, most emails are not registered with teh copyright office, which would have to be done before a copyright suit could be filed.

As the answer by Iñaki Viggers correctly says, there is no duty of confidentialty unless you have agreed to one, which seems unlikely.

Thus, quoting key portions of such an email is almost surely legally valid, and no threats of legal action would be valid.

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    A stronger conclusion should be reached: this copying is for purposes of "commentary", which is the fundamental consideration that gave rise to "fair use" in the first place. Permission not required to quote and expose the bloviations of politicians.
    – user6726
    Apr 5 at 15:58
  • @user6726 . No one factor ever ends the fair use analysis (all 4 must be considered), not all commentary alows ythe source to be copied wholesale under fair use. Nor may the whole work be copied when a smaller amount would serve to make the commentary. Nor is this the kind of commentary usually invoked in fair use judgements. Apr 5 at 16:31
  • Given that this is a very clear case of fair use, an answer addressing copyright should concentrate on why this is fair use (and provide a section 107 link) rather than mention it in passing.
    – grovkin
    Apr 6 at 2:37
  • There's also the question what would be the punishment for your copyright infringement. If you post a message from the vendor that makes everyone stop buying from them because it demonstrates their bad character, the damage is caused by the post of the vendor, not by your copyright infringement. If you are selling goods yourself and copied his message to insult your own customers, instead of making up your own insults, that could cause damages to him through the copyright infringement.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 7 at 10:20
  • @gnasher729 There could be statutory damages. Apr 7 at 12:11

Have I broken the law or am I being bullied?

The retailer is just trying to intimidate you. It is lawful for you to publish the interactions unless (1) you agreed --even if tacitly-- to preserve confidentiality of the communications, or (2) your publications disclose third parties' information that ought to be redacted. At first glance neither condition seems to apply in your matter, but only you know the full details so as to assess whether that is the case.

In general, publishing the interactions helps preempting retailer's claims of defamation because you are giving the audience the opportunity to corroborate the basis of your denouncement of the retailer.

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    -1 You have ignored copyright totally Apr 5 at 14:45
  • @DavidSiegel Copyright is for matters of innovation and creativity (literary and artistic productions, designs whether or not patentable, etc.), not for hindering the verifiability of someone's misconduct. Apr 5 at 14:51
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    Copyright applies to all written and graphic works with a "modicum" or originality. It very much applies to business communications. However, quoting a reasonable portion of an email would be legal and would allow the needed verification. Apr 5 at 14:56
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    @grovkin “criticism” means criticism of the work as a work, not criticism of the author.
    – Dale M
    Apr 6 at 0:10
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    @DaleM in this case, it is both. The intent of the work is not to entertain, but rather to satisfy a concern by a customer. If the work fails to do this (as the OP suggests), that's criticism both of the author and of the work itself. The nature of the author's failure is exposed by the nature of their communication.
    – grovkin
    Apr 6 at 2:38

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