Guidance is sought out by site visitors on a pretty regular basis about forwarding emails. In particular when it comes to forwarding emails written by others.
Should I ask the sender if it is okay to forward an email they sent to me?
Should I assume that the email is considered private?
Yes and yes!
Do Not Forward Emails Without Permission
Just from a courtesy point of view, that should dictate that you do not forward an email communication sent to you without the original sender’s knowledge. It was sent to you alone after all. Many think, incorrectly, of email as something they “own” once it lands in their inbox.
Your friend may not appreciate the email they wrote to you being sent and shared with others. Reverse the roles and how would you feel?
I’ve had folks then state “but they know those I forward to.” Doesn’t matter. You need to ask first whether they know who you are forwarding to or not.
This is a Legal Issue?
Technically, all emails are naturally copyright protected by the author upon their creation. “Copyright exists from the moment the work is created.” Depending on what you are forwarding, to who, where and how often could cause legal issues to become exasperated.
When is my work protected?https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
Yeah, I here you — copyright infringement is not a concern when it comes to communications between family and friends. But it most certainly can come into play depending on the content within the email. I’m just letting you know all the potential implications.
It’s About Building Trust
To forward a private email or to post it online without asking first is a bad idea for a couple reasons. Not just because of potential legal ramifications, but doing so will not contribute to building trust in your relationships.
Does using Cc: (courtesy copy) negate the need for requesting permission? After all, you are notifying the sender that you are forwarding their communication. After the fact. You have forwarded their private email without any courtesy or concern for their feelings.
So, no, Cc’ing does not replace your responsibility to ask for permission.
Emails are written specifically for the eyes of the recipient. Unless stated clearly to the contrary, there is no tacit permission to forward to others without the knowledge or permission of the sender.
I have an article about forwarding email best practices on my site that you might find helpful that covers the 5 Rules for Forwarding.
Have you run into an issue when you forwarded an email you shouldn’t gave? Or how about someone forwarding your private communications without your permission?