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Are emails at work confidential or privileged?

A reader wondered about communicating with her lawyer from work.  In particular, she wondered if such communications are confidential or privileged.

Generally, communications between a client and her lawyer are subject to solicitor-client privilege, and may not be revealed in court.

However, if the client contacts her lawyer from work, and in particular uses her work smartphone, work computer or her employer’s Internet connection, her employer may have access to her communications with her lawyer.   This applies even if the client uses her work computer but uses her own web-based email (like Gmail or Hotmail) to send and receive emails with her lawyer.

This is because most employers have an information technology policy which allows the employer to have access to all data stored on an employee’s work computer, as well as access to all data transfers in and out of an employee’s work computer.  There is likely a similar policy with respect to smartphones issued by the employer as well.

If an employee absolutely needs to contact a lawyer while at work, I recommend that the employee use their own personal email account on their personal smartphone to do so.

And please remember to make sure the personal smartphone is using your cellular provider’s network, and not the employer’s wifi network.

BC court confirms website terms of use enforceable as legal contracts

In Century 21 Canada Limited Partnership v. Rogers Communications Inc., 2011 BCSC 1196, the BC Court held that Rogers infringed Century 21’s copyright and terms of use by scraping Century 21’s real estate listings from its website and incorporating the listings into the real estate search engine Zoocasa.

Starting in 2008, Zoocasa copied photos, property listings, and pricing from Century 21’s website and provided hyperlinks that directed a user to specific pages of the Century 21 Website that contained the property listings.  Despite letters from Century 21, Zoocasa chose not to stop scraping until early 2010, nearly 2 and a half years after Century 21 first advised Zoocasa they did not consent to Zoocasa’s activities and advised them of the Century 21 Terms of Use and Zoocasa’s breach of these terms.

The court considered the enforceability of website terms of use as a contract, and explored various analogous software licences and contracts created over the Internet such as shrink wrap agreements, click wrap agreements, and browse wrap agreements.  The court confirms that website terms of use are enforceable as legal contracts at para 119:

The act of browsing past the initial page of the website or searching the site is conduct indicating agreement with the Terms of Use if those terms are provided with sufficient notice, are available for review prior to acceptance, and clearly state that proceeding further is acceptance of the terms.

In addition, the court confirms that liability is not avoided by automating the website scraping as the scraping program must initially be set up manually.

Operating a business together

You and a buddy want to operate a business, and both of you want to save some money. You’re both informal people eager to get on with business, so both of you simply start selling stuff. 

You’ve just entered into a partnership with your buddy.  As partners, each of you is liable to the full extent of your personal assets for the debts and other liabilities of the partnership business.

That sounds scary, but a partnership is not automatically a bad thing.  Depending on the particular circumstances, a partnership may be the best way to do business because the law may not allow you to incorporate.  For example, many investment funds operate as a partnership, and some law firms operate a special form of partnership as well.

What is important is that both of you know that you’ve created a partnership, and that both of you wanted it to be that way. 

A partnership may be created even without an express partnership agreement.  Whether a partnership exists is determined objectively by a court.

In fact, an express provision in a written agreement denying that the you and your buddy are NOT partners may not be conclusive proof in showing that a partnership does not exist.

The best way to show that you’re not in a partnership?  Incorporate.

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