The use of a thumbs-up emoji in a text message can be a legally-binding agreement to a contract, a Canadian court has found.
In the Court of King’s Bench in Saskatchewan, Justice Timothy Keene found that a farmer had agreed to a contract by replying to a text message with the thumbs-up emoji.
The judge added that courts need to adapt to the “new reality” of communicating through technologies such as emojis.
The case in question was between South West Terminal and Achter Land & Cattle, and related to a contract to provide 86 tonnes of flax, as The Guardian reported.
In March 2021, South West Terminal buyer Kent Mikleborough sent a text message to clients advertising that the company was looking to buy the flax.
This led him to speak with Achter Land & Cattle’s Chris Achter on the phone and then send him a picture of the contract. Along with the photo, Mikleborough asked Achter to “please confirm [sic] flax contract”.
Achter responded to this message with a thumbs-up emoji, but failed to deliver the flax.
The judge ruled that the use of the emoji had equated to Achter agreeing to the contract, and ordered him to pay $C82,000 ($92,500).
“This court readily acknowledges that a [thumbs-up] emoji is a non-traditional means to ‘sign’ a document but nevertheless under these circumstances this was a valid way to convey the two purposes of a ‘signature’,” Keene said in his ruling.
Achter argued that his use of the thumbs-up emoji was merely to confirm he had received the contract, rather than to agree to it.
“I deny that he accepted the thumbs-up emoji as a digital signature of the incomplete contract,” Achter said.
“I did not have time to review the flax contract and merely wanted to indicate that I did receive his text message.”
During cross-examination, Achter was asked whether he had ever googled the meaning of the thumbs-up emoji, leading his lawyer to say that, “my client is not an expert in emojis”.
The judge found that the thumbs-up emoji could be seen as indicating “I approve”, and that the pair had previously agreed to contracts over text messages using terms such as “looks good” and “yup”.
“The parties clearly understood these curt words were meant to be confirmation of the contract and not a mere acknowledgement of the receipt of the contract by Chris,” Keene said.
“There can be no other logical or credible explanation because the proof is in the pudding.”
The court heard that such a ruling could “open up the floodgates to allow all sorts of cases coming forward asking for interpretations as to what various different emojis mean”.
“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 emojis and the like,” Keene said.
It’s not the first time a court has had to decide on the meaning of an emoji. A court found in 2017 that a couple in Israel had agreed to rent an apartment after they replied to a landlord’s text message with the champagne bottle, squirrel and comet emojis.