A question on citing email communications?

Hi all,

II missed the chance to ask about it last class. I assume I can upload questions related to readings here? This might be rather an obvious one for some of you, so I’m asking for your help (I’m really curious about it).

After reading Fred Benenson’s “On the Fungibility and Necessity of Cultural Freedom” last week, I have been curious about the (written or unwritten) rules/ethics/assumptions of citing personal communications (especially email). Benenson “cites” Michael David Crawford’s email to the Creative Commons Community list asking for advice on how to decide on license for his personal writing. Although it is not my first time to encounter citations of personal communications (e.g., email interviews, etc.), this case seemed a bit different to me. I was not sure if I can just “assume” that the author cites the email with the permission of Crawford as it wasn’t explicitly stated in the article. I conducted a quick search and people seem to be agreeing with that it is an “etiquette,” but it has to be more than an etiquette right? Is a “message/email” to the Creative Commons Community list or other types of listserv considered to be in public domain that can be cited and reused without permission? (As Benenson used the word “email” in the text and “message” in the endnote, I’m a bit confused here too. I assumed it as email). I’m not asking about the citational matters (i.e., rules in Chicago style) or I don’t intend on nitpicking in this specific case, but I’m rather curious about the legal (privacy/copyright?) aspect that might be helpful in my future research and teaching.

Here are the endnotes of Benenson’s writing that refer to email conversations.

2. Michael D. Crawford, “[cc-community] Help me decide on a license,” message to
the Creative Commons Community list, December “, .//0, http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/
cc-community/.//0-December///.00”.html (accessed July ./, ./!/).

As I don’t understand how the Creative Commons Community works and the links didn’t work on my computer, I was not able to figure out if the emails are already public. Did I miss something important in this article? DId you have the same assumption? How did you read it?

Have a great weekend!

4 thoughts on “A question on citing email communications?

  1. Good question, Kyueun. I use Chicago 16 as my style authority and use their Note/Bibliography format. Here’s what they say about how to write a citation for any personal communication (substitute “email message” for “Facebook message” in the example below):

    Personal communications, including email and text messages and direct messages sent through social media, are usually cited in the text or in a note only; they are rarely included in a bibliography.

    1. Sam Gomez, Facebook message to author, August 1, 2017.

    • Thanks a lot for your answer. I guess my main question was not clear in the writing, but I was wondering more about the “permission to cite” persoal communications (if it’s solely through a person-to-person permission) and if we should always mention in text or in the note that we are citing personal communications “upon approval/permission” or just can skip that process. (I will ask about it beore class if it’s still not clear- thanks)

  2. Kyueun, this is a good question. It is question of both etiquette and ethics. The key question, I think, is whether the email can be considered “published” material. Which is to say, is it meant for a “public.”

    In this case, the discussion list (circa mid-2000s) has a somewhat similar function to a bulletin board like Reddit might have now. It isn’t Facebook, which has multiple levels of multidimensional privacy. Anyone could join the list, everyone got all the messages, and all the messages were typically archived.

    Nettime is a pretty good idea-type example for this. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nettime and http://www.nettime.org/). Serious and important public discussions took place on that email list. So much so, that (my memory is) they edited sections into a book that was published.

    On the other hand, if the author had personal email communication with someone else, it would not be something that would be considered published. Even if there were multiple people cc’d on it. It is the ability for *anyone* to join and listen and contribute, that makes a discussion list like that, an example of a digital public space.

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