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Canadian Court embraces the Internet age

Canadian Court embraces the Internet age, a ‘thumbs up emoji’ declared a valid and binding signature.

In this novel case, the issue before Justice T.J Keane of the Court of King’s Bench in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, was whether a ‘thumbs up emoji’ delivered via text message to the purchaser of a good constituted a valid and binding signature to a contract for the sale of goods.

Background

In March 2021, a Canadian grant buyer for a crop inputs company sent a bulk text message to a number of his regular suppliers of flax with the purpose of purchasing flax for delivery that year.

The purchaser had a telephone conversation with the supplier which Justice T.J Keane found must have included a verbal agreement. The purchaser drafted a contract for the supplier to sell 86 metric tons of flax. It was noted in Justice Keane’s judgment that the purchaser had entered into at least four previous contracts with the supplier via text message. 

The purchaser took a photograph of the signed contract and sent it to the supplier with the text message “Please confirm flax contract”. The supplier replied with a thumbs up emoji only.

Notwithstanding the previous contracts executed via text message, the supplier argued that he did not have time to review the contract and only wanted to confirm receipt of the contract.

It was argued by Counsel for the supplier that allowing an emoji to signify identify and acceptance of a contract would open the “floodgates” in relation to legal and binding interpretations as to what various different emojis mean.

Justice T.J Keane noted:

“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’…“I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Chris okayed or approved the contract just like he had done before except this time he used a thumbs up emoji,” 

“In my view a reasonable bystander knowing all of the background would come to the objective understanding that the parties had reached consensus ad idem – a meeting of the minds – just like they had done on numerous other occasions.”

Although it is an interesting development in Canadian contract law, and therefore not binding on Australian courts, this unique case was heard in one of the closely aligned Commonwealth common law jurisdictions and may well be a persuasive precursor for similar cases in Australia, as we enter further into the digital age.

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