Judicial Breakthrough: Emoji indiscretion can cost $82,000 in Canada
Can “thumbs up” be legal?
In a recent hearing in the Supreme Court of Saskatchewan, Canada, Judge He has made a decision , which can seriously change the rules of modern business communications. In his opinion, the use of the “thumbs up” emoji can be equated with a legal signature. At the core affairs there was a dispute over an unfulfilled contract, due to which a simple farmer had to pay a fine of 82,000 Canadian dollars (about 4.6 million rubles).
The story began in March 2021, when Kent Mickleborough, a grain seller at South West Terminal, sent mass text messages to customers offering to buy 86 tons of flax for 17 Canadian dollars (about 960 rubles) per bushel. Mickleborough and farmer Chris Achter were talking by phone. Then Chris received a message in the messenger with the terms of the contract and a request to confirm them. The farmer responded with a thumbs up emoji.
However, in November, when the delivery time came, Chris did not fulfill his obligations. Prices for linen managed to increase, so the purchase had to be abandoned. Thus began the controversy over the interpretation of the “thumbs up” emoji. Mickleborough was sure that the emoji implied Achter’s agreement to the terms of the contract: other contracts had already been concluded via text messages.
Akhter argued in court that there was no time to read the contract for flax, and he just wanted to confirm that he received a text message from Mickleborough. During the hearing, the farmer’s lawyer objected to asking his client about the meaning of the emoji, stating that Chris “is not an expert in the field.”
Judge Timothy Keane, considering the case, relied on the definition of “thumbs up” from dictionary.com. In its decision, he noted: “This court readily accepts that this emoji is an unconventional method of ‘signing’ a document, but, nevertheless, in the circumstances it was a valid way to confirm two purposes at once.” He also dismissed the defense’s argument that recognizing the “thumbs up” emoji as a legal signature would “open the floodgates” for new interpretations of other emojis. For example, “fist” or “handshake”.
Keane emphasized that the court cannot (and should not) try to stop the influx of technology and diverse communication methods, especially in messengers. This is a new reality and courts must be prepared to take on new challenges, including those related to the use of emoji and similar symbols.