Are emails valid as evidence in court?
Thread poster: Sarah Downing

Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:01
German to English
+ ...
Jul 15, 2003

Hello,

I am based in Germany and have a question about email addresses. In the theoretical situation where a customer of mine decides not to pay for some unjustified reason, would the email correspondence regarding the job count as evidence in court?
I always thought that it did, but a colleague claims that it doesn't if you have dynamic IP addresses (which change everytime you go online)

Could someone please give me a tip on this matter.

Thanks in advance,

Sarah


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DGK T-I  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:01
Member (2003)
Georgian to English
+ ...
http://www.sidley.com/cyberlaw/features/deletions.asp (may be interesting,for London based advice) Jul 15, 2003

Sarah Downing wrote:

Hello,

I am based in Germany and have a question about email addresses. In the theoretical situation where a customer of mine decides not to pay for some unjustified reason, would the email correspondence regarding the job count as evidence in court?
I always thought that it did, but a colleague claims that it doesn't if you have dynamic IP addresses (which change everytime you go online)

Could someone please give me a tip on this matter.

Thanks in advance,

Sarah


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Lucinda  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:01
Member (2002)
Dutch to English
+ ...
It depends Jul 15, 2003

I think that whether it is valid/legal in court depends on whether it has been entered as such into the laws of your country.

I would put the question to your Justice Department (Civil Affairs). Go to the information department and ask. They are there to give answers and I do not think that it will cost you anything. Or perhaps they can guide you to the right Web link or department to ask this question. Or perhaps there is a global law on this, or an EU law.

If you find out, please let me/us know because I am sure that more people have wondered about this. I live in Suriname and know that it has not been entered in the laws there yet.

Lucinda

[Edited at 2003-07-15 15:07]


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Gregory Fischer
United States
Local time: 11:01
French to English
+ ...
I agree that it depends...but be ruthless.. Jul 15, 2003

I agree on the fact that it depends on jurisdictions in different countries, but after my studies in law and personal experience...for some clients you need (first spot them apart from those angels who pay in a reasonable amount of time) persist on the agreement of services...and in that case an email is fine on as an informal agreement, but there is a risk since it is not 100% justifiable without a signature. For the clients whom you are sure will hide the check book...send them an estimate for there request...signed by you asking for confirmation by fax (if possible) or via faxemail software.

Cheers

G-


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bochkor
Local time: 11:01
English to German
+ ...
Contact your ISP! Jul 15, 2003

Contact your Internet Service Provider's (ISP) Anti-Abuse Department, because they deal with hackers and Trojan horse attempts every day.

I spoke, for example, with Bellsouth.net and asked them how they would prove in court that my computer was attacked, since all the evidence they have in electronic form. They said they would print out their server logs and other info, to which only they have access, well beyond the header info you can get from your e-mails.

In other words, without your ISP you can't prove of anything electronic that it's authentic. You need their help. So it's less of a country issue, because once a court sees irrefutable evidence, even a judge has to bow to that. Important is to obtain that evidence and only your ISP can get you that.

So ask them in more detail, what kind of server logs they have for e-mails, how long they keep it, can they print it up and mail it to you, etc. Well, they sure do print them up, once they go after somebody in court, but "Would they print it up for you and mail it to you?" is the question! So offer them to reimburse the mailing costs or whatever, just talk to them! And be sure you're talking to their Abuse Department, which is usually a section under Tech Support!


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invguy  Identity Verified
Bulgaria
Local time: 18:01
English to Bulgarian
A hypothetical case Jul 15, 2003

Thanks for the topic, Sarah! I have wondered about this myself, and more specifically about the following hypothetical (so far ) case:


Suppose I am doing a project for a client halfway across the globe. Signed contract has been received by snail mail but all other communication goes by e-mail. He sends me a last-minute note (e-mail) to make some changes, and I do so. No time for snail mail confirmation; no one of us uses a fax either. At payment time client claims I should not have made those changes, and refuses to pay.


As far as I can figure it out, it is a matter of proving that *my client* has sent me that note, not someone else in his name.


Indeed, it would help if he has a static IP address. Actually, this would confirm that the message had been sent from (one of) his computer(s). But again, it might be someone else who just logged in from there (unauthorized access).


I think, however, that the best proof would be if all previous message exchange remained quoted in the e-mail body - at least until a subject is exhausted/closed. Methinks, if the note in question is retained as a quote in the body of the next few e-mails exchanged, this should be a fairly solid proof that the client knows about it, and has not denied it. Indeed, it would be extremely unlikely that the correspondence on a project whose deadline is approaching could be led by a third party under the conditions of continued unauthorized access.


Hence, I guess it would be advisable to keep all correspondence on a project under one (or, well, a limited number of) subject(s), leaving all previous messages quoted in the message body. Which in fact means going by the standard


What do you all think? IYO, could this really give a better argument in legal proceedings?


It can be expected that using e-mail messages as legal evidence has not yet been treated in most national legislations (if treated anywhere at all). OTOH, there must have been some informed discussions on the subject, and I wonder if anyone of you has stumbled upon one.


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Stephen Lang  Identity Verified
French to English
I sued under a similar situation Jul 16, 2003

I had a verbal agreement with an American company in another state (I am American also) to buy photos on a certain subject if I went to Europe to take them. The editor I was working with sent me email saying he agreed to pay for the first portion of them after seeing them, then other management refused to pay. After negotiations failed to get a settlement, I sued and they settled for the sum in the email plus some expenses. I suppose in my case there were letters/phone calls that would make it impossible to deny any connection with me, but I convinced my lawyer the email was a promise to pay, he believed it was borderline in the case law at that time (1998). Also I had a prior relationship with the editor for having sold other pictures, so it constituted an 'implied in fact contract' on top of the email. Plus they would have had to pay a large retainer to a firm in my state to represent them, more than they owed me, so as you can see there were a lot of variables that may not exist in your case.

I myself would pursue it, if for no other reason than that I decided to put my foot down on that kind of stuff. You have to decide how much time, money and emotional effort you are willing to devote to it.


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Thomas Melletat
Local time: 17:01
English to German
not really but it depends Jul 16, 2003

Whatelse could have been the answer of a lawyer...?
In civil cases in Germany it very much depends on circumstances, the judges understanding and additional whitnesses (like the secretary who collected the eMails from the server or similar).
Its always safer to confirm via Telefax and let a third person (i.e. Partner, Neighbour, .... whosoever)do the faxtransmission, so he/she could be a whitness in a forthcoming trial when it comes to the question: Has it been sent and did the Faxpartner receive it.

Yours
Thomas Melletat
Lawyer/Translator


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