Is A Thumbs Up Emoji Legally Binding?

mariam-abu-hussein
Mariam Abu HusseinLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 14th November 2023

In the digital age, emojis have become a staple in our text conversations, whether we’re chatting to friends or colleagues. But what if we told you that emojis have the potential to be legally binding? 

thumbs-up-emoji-legally-binding

A recent court ruling in Canada did just that, declaring the simple thumbs up emoji as legally binding. Yep, you read that right. That little 👍 now has the potential to hold some serious legal weight. Who would’ve thought? 

The case, Southwest Thermal Ltd v. Achter & Cattle Ltd has not yet been seen in UK courts, but it’s definitely sparked some hot debates. And suddenly, emojis aren’t just cute icons; they can mean legally serious business. 

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at the case in question that changed the game for emojis, including the outcome and future considerations.

Southwest Thermal Ltd v. Achter & Cattle Ltd

The case begins with a grain buyer, Kent Mickleborough, who sent out a mass text to clients saying he was looking to buy 86 tonnes of flax for his company. A farmer, Chris Achter, replied and they discussed the deal via text message. Then, Mickleborough sent over a picture of the contract to Achter, alongside a request for confirmation through text, to which Chris replied with a thumbs up emoji. 

Fast forward to November and Achter didn’t deliver the promised flax, leading to a dispute between the two. Mickleborough insisted that he took the thumbs up emoji to be an acceptance of the photographed contract.

Achter argued that the thumbs up was just an acknowledgment of the text, stating:

I did not have time to review the Flax Contract and merely wanted to indicate that I did receive his text message.

The Outcome

In his verdict, Canadian judge Justice Timothy Keene, said the thumbs up emoji was as good as signing a contract. 

Judge Keen dismissed the defence’s concern that this would “open the flood gates” for the use of emojis as a form of mutual contract.

He also recognised the evolving use and importance of emojis in modern communication. Stating that:

The use of the thumbs-up and other such emojis represent a “new reality” in Canada and that courts need to be ready to meet the challenges that emojis present. 

 So, what does this verdict mean for contract and commercial law?

The Implications

This case established that emojis, such as the thumbs-up symbol, can be legally recognised as valid when forming a contract. 

The decision highlights the need for courts to adapt to evolving communication methods and accurately interpret the intended meaning of emojis in a legal context. 

While the case specifically applies only to Canadian law for now, it may lead the way for courts all over the world to react to the use of emojis as a contract in legal cases. 

Emojis as electronic signatures  

Emojis, especially the thumbs-up emoji, are gaining recognition as unconventional, yet valid forms of expressing intent and agreement in a legal context. 

But will the emoji replace signatures? According to this verdict, not just yet, but they certainly hold the same validity. 

The importance of clarity in contract agreements 

The recent Mickleborough vs. Achter case highlights how technology impacts contracts, emphasising the importance of clear communication in online dealings. It's a lesson for both businesses and individuals: be careful with emojis and digital symbols as they can have legal consequences.

This case shows how misunderstandings can pop up in digital communication, even in everyday chats. It's crucial to create clear and legally binding agreements while still enjoying the benefits of modern tech.

To sum it up, whether it's a thumbs up, a handshake, or a fist bump, emojis have become a big part of our communication. This new way of talking in the modern world leaves a lot open to interpretation and context.

As seen in the Mickleborough vs. Achter case, it's a clear example of how emojis are playing a bigger role in contract communication. This highlights the need for clear and standardised practices in the digital age, where even a simple thumbs-up emoji can have legal weight.

As technology keeps changing how we talk, businesses need to stay alert. They should make sure that digital exchanges follow commonly understood meanings to avoid unintended contractual obligations. It's like a digital handshake – better be sure everyone's on the same page!

At Lawhive, our commercial solicitors are on hand to help business owners draft ironclad, legally binding contracts to prevent disputes like the ones above.

For help and advice, get a free case assessment and quote from our legal assessment team to see how we can help you. 

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