E-mail is trespass?
August 14, 2002 5:40 PM   Subscribe

E-mail is trespass? A disgruntled employee's emails to his former co-workers are a legally actionable form of 'trespass to chattels', says Intel. Have you ever trespassed to chattels? Should you fined or even jailed for it? 3 lower courts in Claifornia have said 'yes' to all or part of that last question. (linked to in a thread today, but it deserves it's own).
posted by Jos Bleau (12 comments total)
One of the clauses of my employment contract is that if I leave the company, I must not contact (ex)co-workers and incite them to leave also.

It's not so much that this case "tests e-mail as free speech"; more that he is probably in violation of a similar employment agreement with Intel.

However, I don't know if dressing up like a cowboy is explicitly banned.
posted by paradigm at 6:25 PM on August 14, 2002

Unsolicited, unwanted e-mail = spam, doesn't it? Seems simple, until you really think about it. Does the concept of free speech allow you to harass employees of a company, using that company's time and assets, when the company has made it clear that your harassment is not welcome?

If he had only been contacting employees in their own time and outside Intel property (as he was with his demonstrations), he would have my complete support. I imagine that I would be pretty annoyed, though, if employees of mine were being harassed at work in this way. There is, of course, no indication as to how the other employees feel about his case. It is conceivable that at least some of them consider his messages unwelcome and may even feel threatened by them.

However, I don't know if dressing up like a cowboy is explicitly banned.

I wouldn't think so, but perhaps it should be :-)
posted by dg at 6:48 PM on August 14, 2002

Harvard's Openlaw group has an Intel v. Hamidi archive, inlcuding among other things a sample e-mail. Intel has not sought a fine or jail time (state prosecutors might consider them), nor even a financial judgement; they just want the 1999 judicial order blocking the mails to stand. The basis seems to be sending thousands of mails to their mail servers, causing management costs, rather than any prior agreement.

If the order is upheld, this may have interesting consequences for spam.
posted by dhartung at 6:48 PM on August 14, 2002

It's not so much that this case "tests e-mail as free speech"; more that he is probably in violation of a similar employment agreement with Intel.

If that was true, Intel wouldn't be fishing around 17th century law to find something it could use to stop him.
posted by rcade at 6:59 PM on August 14, 2002

You know, as someone who was on the receiving end of harassing email from a co-worker (sent from the office via my personal website--the woman, although quite educated, seemed to think that the First Amendment applies to my privately financed and maintained website), damn skippy it's trespass. It's not pleasant, it's not fun--especially when management's response to a formal complaint is to fire the person being harassed. Oh wait--I was laid off due to budget cuts.

I'll shut up now.
posted by eilatan at 7:09 PM on August 14, 2002

You know, as someone who was on the receiving end of harassing email from a co-worker [...], damn skippy it's trespass.

Unpleasant, for sure, but as long as we're using legal labels inappropriately, what restrains you from calling unwanted email assault & battery?

I read the article wondering if the suit implicitly labeling Intel's employees chattel. I thought the term was tantamount to an owned person or animal, as opposed to computer equipment or other inanimates. Seems I was thinking more of the secondary definition, though.
posted by bumppo at 8:11 PM on August 14, 2002

Well, I was actually going to go after this person for stalking (in the state I was living in at the time, there are provisions for such an action), but s/he stopped when I told her that I wanted no further communications from him/her--for the record, this continued for weeks after I was laid off, and after I blocked my former employers' IP address from accessing my site.

Trespass, certainly, probbly isn't the correct word, but you know, I really can't think of a better one. A lot of people seem to think that if something happens online or via an online medium, it's not real, and that's simply not true. At least for me it wasn't--I was as upset and worried by this person's actions as I would have been if s/he had been calling my house or knocking on my front door, and yet, if she had done either of those things, management would have taken my complaint more seriously.

Anyhow, that's putting probably way too personal a spin on a not-very-similar situation. I have a bad habit of doing that.
posted by eilatan at 9:00 PM on August 14, 2002

There were/are some defenses to the tort of trespass to chattels, most of which are common sense stuff like 'it was in my way', 'it was on my land', 'I had to move it to save it/myself/somebody else'. Similarly, trespass to land allows for defenses for entirely reasonable behavior, such as walking onto someone's land to knock on their front door. This is called implied permission.

I doubt any of these apply, given that people told him to stop emailing them (ie, withdrew the implied permission).
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:08 PM on August 14, 2002

Why dont we just call it murder and be done with it?

Harassment is harassment regardless of the medium, we dont need special protection for email because it uses 'another's resource.' Hey I paid for my postal mailbox, do I get special 17th century 'chattel' protections too? Time so sue the Weekly Savings people!
posted by skallas at 9:15 PM on August 14, 2002

Nothing I love more than being called "chattel" by my employer... I find it almost as deeply personally rewarding as the fact that employment law is also known as "master and servant" law.
posted by AlexSteffen at 10:46 PM on August 14, 2002

Employment law has progressed greatly (from the point of view of equity and social justice) since the days when it was, quite properly, known as master and servant law. Look it up, if you're interested.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:03 AM on August 15, 2002

I once sent a former boss the following email. Now I realize I was in trespass to chattels in a very indirect way.


When (company) goes out of business in the next couple of days feel free to send me your resume. I'm looking for an entry-level technician who has basic understanding of computer and phone networks. I realize that you don't have this but since I will vouch for you. I would try and find you a management position, but here on the east coast, having your whole staff quit or get fired because of you doesn't fly to well.

Good Luck,
posted by LouieLoco at 11:48 AM on August 15, 2002

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