You should think twice before answering a question from your boss with a ????. A court in Saskatchewan has decided to make the emoji an official agreement to enter into a contract.
New York Times covered decision, from the Court of King’s Bench for Saskatchewan, which is based on a dispute between a farmer and grain buyer in 2021. Kent Mickelborough approached farmer Chris Atcher to buy 87 metric tons of flax—Mickelborough signed a contract for the sale and sent a photo of that of Atcher, who responded with a thumbs up emoji. Atcher claimed that the emoji was only to confirm receipt of the contract, while Mickelborough claimed that it was confirmation that he entered into the agreement, as the buyer also asked for confirmation of the contract along with the image.
“This court readily recognizes that a ???? emoji is a non-traditional means of ‘signing’ a document, but in the circumstances this was a valid way to convey the dual purpose of a ‘signature’ – to identify the signer (Chris uses his unique mobile phone number ) and as I have found above – to convey Achter’s acceptance of the linen contract,” Judge TJ Keene wrote in the decision. “I therefore find that under these circumstances that the provisions of p. 6 of [Sale of Goods Act] is fulfilled and the linen contract is therefore enforceable. There is no matter in this connection that requires a trial.”
According to the decision, Atcher and Mickelborough had a long-standing business relationship, and in past agreements for purchases, Atcher would respond to Mickelborough’s request to confirm contracts with written responses such as “Looks good” or “yup.” Justice Keene wrote that in the circumstances set out in the case, the thumbs up emoji is an “act in electronic form” that can be treated as acceptance of the document.
The case sets a new standard that changes the linguistic role of emojis in official communication – at least in Saskatchewan. Atcher’s attorney warned the judge that this decision would “open the floodgates” for other cases to determine what other emojis might mean, like the handshake emoji. However, Justice Keene is adamant that the Court cannot stand in the way of the changing tides of how we use technology.
“This appears to be the new reality in Canadian society and the courts must be ready to meet the new challenges that may arise from the use of emojis and the like,” he wrote.