A Canadian judge just made Emojis legally binding
According to a Saskatchewan judge, a farmer's emoji response to a contract made him accountable for 82,200 Canadian dollars.
According to a judge in Saskatchewan, Canada, the common use of emojis in everyday life means they should be legally binding.
Judge T.J. Keene ruled that a farmer who used a thumbs-up emoji in response to a legal document sent from a grain cooperative made it legally binding and ordered the farmer to pay 82,200 Canadian dollars ($61,000) in damages.
Keene believes that cases such as this one will become more common as modern communication and technology continue to expand.
He concluded, “This Court cannot (nor should it) attempt to stem the tide of technology and common usage — this appears to be the new reality in Canadian society and courts will have to be ready to meet the new challenges that may arise from the use of emoji and the like."
Although Keene called the case "novel" for his jurisdiction, the judgment touches on wider problems concerning the usage of images in internet communication.
The decision stemmed from a disagreement between a farmer in southern Saskatchewan, Chris Achter, and a grain processing cooperative. During the Covid-19 epidemic in 2020, the grain cooperative ceased sending salespeople to farmers in person and simply negotiated contracts over the phone or via email.
According to the collaborative, both parties signed into a delayed delivery purchase deal for 87 metric tonnes of flax in 2021, with an agreement to pay 669.26 Canadian dollars (about $500) per tonne.
According to court documents, a cooperative worker wrote a contract with "Nov." as the delivery term, signed it, and photographed it with his phone. He then forwarded it to Achter, along with the text "Please confirm flax contract." Achter then responded with a thumbs-up emoji.
The grain, however, did not arrive, causing the cooperative to sue for breach of contract, claiming that the emoji represented an agreement. Achter replied in a deposition that he did not intend the emoji to serve as a signature, stating, “I confirm that the thumbs-up emoji simply confirmed that I received the flax contract," adding that “It was not a confirmation that I agreed with the terms of the Flax Contract. The full terms and conditions of the Flax Contract were not sent to me, and I understood that the complete contract would follow by fax or email for me to review and sign.”
Achter went on to say that he and the salesman communicated often and that many of those conversations were casual. He produced messages including a joke that the salesman had previously sent him as evidence.
In the deposition, Achter denied that he accepted the thumbs-up emoji as a digital signature, adding that he "did not have time to review the Flax Contract and merely wanted to indicate that I did receive his text message. "
Emoji word of the year?
Emojis have become so commonplace that the "tears of joy" Emoji was voted the 2015 word of the year by Oxford.
The Oxford Dictionaries at the time stated that emoji “have been embraced as a nuanced form of expression, and one which can cross language barriers.”
In certain situations, they have made their way into the professional sphere, with some organizations preferring the workplace communication tool Slack over more traditional channels such as email.
Emoji have also occasionally raised difficult legal concerns. A Michigan appeals court had to analyze the circumstances surrounding a "sticking out tongue" emoji in a defamation action in the 2014 case Ghanam v. Does. The court ruled in favor of the defendant after concluding that it was a joke.
On other occasions, emoji have been used to demonstrate a person's purpose, such as a drug conviction in Pennsylvania in which a defendant used an image of a rat to suggest someone had been disloyal.
Attorney Heather King published an article for the American Bar Association in which the lawyer advised legal authorities to take into consideration “factors such as the sender’s and recipient’s intent, surrounding circumstances and the text accompanying the emoji," adding that culture accounts for that as well, considering that the thumbs-up emoji, in particular, could be offensive in some cultures.