Can an emoji be legally binding?

Emojis Legally Binding

Emojis, those tiny digital icons that express emotions and reactions, have become a common part of our daily conversations. But can a simple thumbs up emoji hold any legal weight, especially when it comes to forming contracts?

A recent decision by Justice Timothy Keene in the Court of King's Bench for Saskatchewan, Canada, South West Terminal Ltd v Achter Land & Cattle Ltd, has raised interesting questions about the relevance of emojis in New Zealand contract law.

Understanding contract formation

Before we dive into the legal implications, let's briefly understand how contracts are formed. A contract is a legally binding agreement between two or more parties. In most cases, it involves an offer, acceptance, consideration (something of value exchanged), and mutual intent to be legally bound by the terms.

The Canadian case - A thumbs up emoji contract?

In the case South West Terminal Ltd v Achter Land & Cattle Ltd, the question arose of whether a simple thumbs up emoji could be considered as a valid acceptance of a contract offer. In this case, the grain buyer allegedly made an offer, to which the farmer responded with a thumbs up emoji.

Justice Keene ruled the the emoji response qualified as agreement on the contract terms and ordered the farmer to pay the unfulfilled contract. “This court readily acknowledges that a 👍 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’,” he wrote.

The decision's impact on New Zealand contract law

While this case was decided in Canada, its relevance to New Zealand contract law is intriguing. In New Zealand, contract law shares similar principles with Canada, but it's essential to understand that each jurisdiction has its own distinct legal system.

As of now, New Zealand has not seen a case specifically addressing the validity of emojis in contract formation. However, Justice Keene's decision could serve as a persuasive precedent, meaning that it might influence New Zealand courts in future cases with similar circumstances.

Factors to consider in New Zealand

To determine the relevance of this Canadian decision, New Zealand courts would likely consider several factors:

  1. Intent: Did the parties genuinely intend to be legally bound by the thumbs up emoji response? Courts would look for clear evidence of mutual agreement
  2. Context: Emojis are highly context-dependent. The meaning of a thumbs up emoji may vary depending on the conversation's nature and prior interactions between the parties.
  3. Communication Norms: New Zealand courts might assess whether emojis are commonly used in contract discussions and if their usage aligns with conventional communication norms.
  4. Ambiguity: If the use of emojis leads to ambiguity or misunderstandings, courts may hesitate to enforce the contract.

In a digital age where emojis have become a widespread form of communication, the Canadian decision on the thumbs up emoji contract raises fascinating questions about its relevance in New Zealand contract law. While this ruling might not be directly binding in New Zealand, it could potentially influence future cases.

However, before you start sealing agreements with emojis, remember that forming a contract is a serious matter. It's always best to be explicit and clear in your communication, whether you're using traditional text or emojis. When it comes to legal matters, seeking professional advice is the surest way to protect your rights and interests.

If you need advice on contracts, contact our Business and Commercial Law Team.

Author: Alice Tocher