Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Proving an e-mail was read

Plenty of independent contractors and small businesses conduct most or all of their business communications by exchanging e-mails with other individuals. When business disputes arise, it is fairly common for unscrupulous individuals with whom someone has dealt with to simply deny receiving e-mails and claim that as a defence in a legal proceeding.

For example, a scammer might claim as a legal defence to a Plaintiff's Claim that they never received a demand for payment after having missing a contractually required payment deadline for services rendered. Even though it is unnecessary to prove that they received an e-mail, since missing the deadline is grounds enough to sue them, it is always nice to have that extra bit of evidence establishing that one of their defences, although not even a legal defence in itself, is still a lie. This helps to establish their lack of credibility in regards to other matters that they might testify to.

This is where proving that an e-mail was read comes into play. When you send an e-mail, you want to establish that it was sent and be able to prove it for a future court use. Here are a few ways of accomplishing this:

1) Many e-mail programs have a "Request read receipt" option. When you send the e-mail, the recipient is asked whether they wish to acknowledge receiving the e-mail. Sometimes this is considered rude as it can represent an intrusion on their privacy, but when dealing with contracts people might be more open to receiving these and acknowledging receipt. Sometimes these read receipts don't even ask the recipient to acknowledge receipt, and simply automatically tell you they have received it.

2) If you own a website, you can host a tiny .jpg file on the site, then embed it in an HTML-formatted e-mail when you conduct your business communications. Your server log should then show that the person accessed the e-mail from a certain IP address. The downside to this method is that you have to make a new file for each e-mail sent, but the upside is that it's far less obvious than many read receipt programs.

3) To establish the content of a business e-mail, particularly when you are making offers and acceptances regarding contracts, make sure to send yourself a blind carbon copy at the same time that you e-mail the person you are doing business with. This way you actually have a copy of the agreement which they responded to should you need to introduce it in court.