United Kingdom: the contents of an e-mail may not be protected by intellectual property law

A recent lawsuit was filed between a company and its former president. This case1 provided the English courts with the opportunity to rule on the question of the legal nature of e-mail contents: are they susceptible to appropriation?

In the case where intellectual property rights would be upheld, the judge distinguished between the status of the e-mail title and that of its contents. Having considered several possibilities in which the content would belong either to the sender or to the recipient, no satisfactory solution could be proposed.

In the judge’s opinion, the recent pattern of jurisprudence could not favor intellectual property rights, whilst recognizing that the question had not been fully explored. In reality, certain decisions have left room for doubt2, although not directly related to intellectual property rights pertaining to e-mail content in the strictest sense.

In such cases, jurisprudence would be more inclined to establish protection via copyright or the non-respect of confidential information.


[1] Fairstar Heavy Transport N.V versus Philip Jeffrey Adkins and Claranet Limited [2012] EWHC 2952 (TCC).

[2] Pennwell Publishing v Ornstien [2007] EWHC 1570; WRN Limited v Ayris [2008] EWHC 1080; Boardman v Phipps [1966] UKHL 2