Warning: There is no sex in this post. This is another in my endless series of ranty whines about hilariously bad marketing emails.

So, I got this email. Above the signature line, it said this:

Hi Baccus,

I just drifted by ErosBlog and thought I’d complement you on your blog and content…

Keep it up!


So far, so fine, if a little bit oddly spelled and punctuated. And obviously not pure spam, since personalized with an error that a robot would be unlikely to make.

Then, the signature line. Then, Richard’s contact info and a line I suspect as being the reason for the mail:

Please visit my website at [there was a URL here — Bacchus]

So much I took in at a glance. A marketing email disguised as a fanmail. Not unique, not particularly offensive, not worth very much of my time. It might or might not get a click, depending on my mood.

Until my eye fell on the next TWO PARAGRAPHS of lawyerese:

Note that this email and any attachments are confidential and intended solely for the use of the addressee. Confidentiality and legal privilege are not waived or lost by reason of mistaken delivery to you. If you have received this email in error kindly notify the sender by reply e mail.

This e mail message has been scanned by Trend software: www.antivirus.com for the presence of computer viruses. However, it is entirely your responsibility to further scan this message and any attachments for computer viruses or other defects. We do not accept liability for any loss or damage – indirect or consequential which may result, directly or indirectly, from your receipt of this message or any attachments.

The first paragraph is just misplaced. Corporate types often include similar boilerplate after every business email. It’s a bad idea, since most emails are NOT confidential and don’t need to be; you’d be better of reserving such messages for the ones that truly are. Also, if you assert things that are not true, you look like an idiot. It’s all very well to say “Confidentiality and legal privilege are not waived or lost by reason of mistaken delivery to you.” They may indeed not be waived — that’s the point of saying this, to indicate your lack of intent to waive confidentiality and privilege — but confidentiality sure as hell is lost when you transmit confidential stuff to a third party. You can’t write that away any more than you can write “I’m a virgin” on a girl’s tummy before having sex with her, and thus preserve her virginity as you plunder it thoroughly. So this line is like standing on your head while reciting “By looking at me, you agree that I am not standing on my head.” Yeah, not really, but I do agree that you are a hopeless buffoon.

But what really caught my eye was the paragraph of disclaimer about viruses. Look, if you send a virus to me that hoses my computer and wipes out my business, you may have various good arguments when my lawyers get in touch. But “Well, I told you you were on your own when I sent it” is not going to be among them! By this point I can’t tell whether his boilerplate is written by the world’s dumbest and most arrogant lawyer, or by somebody who has seen too much boilerplate and is just mashing it all up together like peas and mashed potatoes and gravy.

But, now I knew I just had to go visit his website. If the email boilerplate was this bad, what does his website TOS look like?

Oh. My. God.

Tiny link at the bottom of the page. Link text is a copyright and and “all rights reserved” statement. Link URL includes the phrase “legal information”. Page title is a search-engine optimized nightmare of keywords: “Legal information artist art copright law intellectual property rights”.

What kind of wanker (hi, Richard!) optimizes his boilerplate for search engine hits?

This kind:

Please feel free to browse the Site, however all material contained herein is proprietary.

Say what, motherfucker? Say WHAT?

By definition, if information is proprietary, you do not release it to the fucking public. You, on the other hand, posted that shit on the motherfucking INTERNET. Watch my lips: IT DOESN’T GET ANY MORE PUBLIC THAN THAT. Not even inside Paris Hilton’s vagina.

Saying a thing does not make it so — unless you are a powerful wizard. The material on your website is not proprietary, not any more (if it ever was). Sorry about that, reality is a bitch.

Can this get any better? You betcha, very next sentence:

You may not download, distribute, modify, transmit, hyper-link, reuse, re-post, or use the content of this Site for public or commercial purposes, including the text and images, without [wanker’s] prior written permission.

Dude, too late! You sent me the link, and now I’m reading your shit. For that to happen, I clicked a link. And when that happened, my computer talked to some other computers and together we distributed your shit across an ocean, transmitted the hell out of it, downloaded it onto my hard drive, modified it six ways from Sunday… and all that happened before I ever even saw this stupid piece of boilerplate. How are we supposed to unring all those bells, dude?

Also, duh? If you didn’t want me to hyper-link your shit, why did you send my your motherfuckin’ hyperlink? Are you just trying to waste my time, here?

At this point the boilerplate launches into thirteen paragraphs of terms and conditions, virtually all of which are as boneheaded as what we’ve seen so far. The last one is exemplary:

[Wanker] may at any time revise these Terms and Conditions by updating this posting. You are bound by any such revisions and should therefore periodically visit this page to review the then current Terms and Conditions to which you are bound.

Wait, what? Because I clicked your spammy marketing link, you think I now have a legal obligation to return to your web page periodically and re-read your terms and conditions? Are you smoking CRACK?

Finally, there was one paragraph in the terms and conditions that nearly convinced me my complimentary wanker correspondent was just taking the piss. Remember the email boilerplate that said his emails to me were SooporSekrit? Do you suppose that means he’ll offer me the same courtesy, if I email him?

Well, no. What’s more, if I mail him the plans for my awesome and highly functional perpetual motion machine, it’s as if I assigned him the patent:

Any communication or material you transmit to the Site by electronic mail or otherwise, including any data, questions, comments, suggestions, or the like is, and will be treated as, non-confidential and non-proprietary. Anything you transmit or post may be used by [wanker] for any purpose, including, but not limited to, reproduction, disclosure, transmission, publication, broadcast and posting. Furthermore, [wanker] is free to use any ideas, concepts, know-how, or techniques contained in any communication you send to this Site for any purpose whatsoever including, but not limited to, developing, manufacturing and marketing products using such information.

Cory Doctorow has described this sort of boilerplate as “the standard ridiculous EULA junk” and has crafted his clever standard anti-EULA EULA to cope with it:

READ CAREFULLY. By reading this email, you agree, on behalf of your employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from any and all NON-NEGOTIATED agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete and acceptable use policies (“BOGUS AGREEMENTS”) that I have entered into with your employer, its partners, licensors, agents and assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to my ongoing rights and privileges. You further represent that you have the authority to release me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your employer.

I like it, and I think I might actually use it, if only for the humor value, in situations where boilerplate can’t safely be ignored (which is most of them). However, I have a keen sense of the fact that the currency of the internet is attention — and if it’s not the same as real currency yet, it might be, one day soon. So when an internet participant (which is to say, a person hoping to function in the modern economy) publishes boilerplate like the kind I’ve been lampooning in this post, I view them as being like a petulant nine year old: “This is my tree fort, you have to be in MY CLUB or you can’t come in. It’s MY CLUB and so I make all the rules, and you have to do exactly as I say because it’s MY CLUB and I’m the king of it.”

And the very worst thing you can do to an immature dictator of that sort is ignore them. Deny them the currency of attention. Ignore not just their boilerplate, but their product. They’ll learn, or they’ll go away, or they’ll remain so obscure as to be irrelevant.