Employee’s work emails are not the employer’s property
In Capita plc & another v Darch & others the High Court has ruled that employers do not have a claim to property in emails or the contents of emails sent by employees from the employer’s email accounts. Capita had sought a number of interim injunctions against former staff who set up a rival company, including an order for the defendants to “forward to the claimants’ solicitors copies of all emails that they have received into any non-Capita email account from any email account at Capita (including their own)”. The claimants argued that the emails and/or their contents were Capita’s property. The order requested was not limited in any respect and therefore covered personal and private emails sent from the employer’s email accounts.
Dismissing the application and the subsequent appeal the High Court found that the claimant’s argument that the emails and/or their contents were Capita’s property was not well founded. Referring to previous Court of Appeal judgements it said: “When information is created and recorded there are sharp distinctions between the information itself, the physical medium on which the information is recorded and the rights to which the information gives rise. Whilst the physical medium and the rights are treated as property, the information itself has never been”.
The judgment went further by saying that even if such an argument had been correct, the width of the order sought was excessive and would infringe the right to respect for private and family life guaranteed by Article 8 of the ECHR.