Note the operative word, "should." My attorney says this is nothing more than a request—only a fool would consider it a binding contract.
If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any unauthorized disclosure, dissemination, distribution, copying or the taking of any action in reliance on the information herein is strictly prohibited.
My Samoan attorney says Time Inc. might have a case if the message contained a trade secret intended for a recipient other than me and I distributed it. But sending a confidential or valuable message via insecure e-mail is a funny way to preserve a secret. If Time Inc. wants to keep its communications safe, it should invest in some sort of encryption software that allows privileged readers to open the mail but prevents them from forwarding, printing, or otherwise duplicating it. Microsoft, which publishes Slate, even makes a product for such occasions.
If you have received this communication in error, please immediately notify the sender and delete this message.
This, too, is only a request. (See above.)
The oddest thing about the Time Inc. disclaimer isn't its dubious legal language, but its placement at the bottom of the e-mail message. It's one thing to ask a correspondent to agree to terms of confidentiality before they read the message, but to dictate the terms afterwards? Ridiculous! If you really want to get the goat of a Time Inc. journalist, send him some extraordinary dish about your company via e-mail but then type the Time Inc. disclaimer into the end, substituting your company's name for that of Time Inc.
As stupid as the Time Inc. disclaimer may be, they come a lot stupider. In 2001, the Register, a U.K. information technology Web site, enlisted its readers to gather the longest, most PC, and most incomprehensible disclaimers on the Internet.
After reading, please burn this Web posting and then send your most hilarious disclaimer to email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)