Better think twice before answering your boss’s question with a 👍. A Saskatchewan court ruled to make the emoji an official agreement to enter into a contract.
The New York Times covered the Decision, by the Court of King’s Bench for Saskatchewan, based on a dispute between a farmer and a grain buyer in 2021. Kent Mickelborough approached farmer Chris Atcher to buy 87 tonnes of flax – Mickelborough signed a purchase agreement and sent a photo of it to Atcher, who responded with a thumbs-up emoji. Atcher argued that the emoji was simply to confirm receipt of the contract, while Mickelborough argued that it was confirmation that he had entered into the contract, since the buyer had requested 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 it was still a valid means of conveying the two purposes of a ‘signature’ – the signer to identify (Chris uses his unique cell phone number) and as I found out above – to convey Achter’s acceptance of the Flax contract,” Judge TJ Keene wrote in the decision. “It is therefore my opinion that in these circumstances the provisions of p. 6 of [Sale of Goods Act] are met and the Flax Contract is therefore enforceable. In this regard, there is no problem that requires a process.”
According to the decision, Atcher and Mickelborough had a long-standing business relationship, and in previous agreements on purchases, Atcher responded to Mickelborough’s requests to confirm contracts with written answers such as “Looks good” or “Yes.” Judge Keene wrote that among those in the case In the circumstances listed, the thumbs-up emoji is an “action in electronic form” which can be taken as acceptance of the document.
The case sets a new standard that is changing 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 decide what other emojis, like the handshake emoji, might mean. However, Judge Keene firmly believes the court cannot stand in the way of the changing tides in the use of technology.
“This appears to be the new reality in Canadian society and courts must be prepared to face the new challenges that may arise from the use of emojis and the like,” he wrote.