Thumbs-Up Emoji Legally Binding says Canadian Court

A farmer in Canada has been ordered by a judge to pay C$82,000 ($61,442) for failing to fulfill a contract, with the judge ruling that the “thumbs-up” emoji is just as legally binding as a signature. The ruling reflects the need for courts to adapt to new technology and the changing ways in which people communicate.

The case, which took place in the Court of King’s Bench in the province of Saskatchewan, involved a grain buyer named Kent Mickleborough who sent a text message to clients in March 2021, advertising the purchase of 86 tonnes of flax at a price of C$17 ($12.73) per bushel.

Mickleborough communicated with farmer Chris Achter over the phone and sent a picture of a contract via text message, requesting Achter to confirm the flax contract. In response, Achter simply replied with a thumbs-up emoji. However, when November came around, Achter had not delivered the flax as agreed, and by then, the crop prices had risen.

The interpretation of the thumbs-up emoji became a point of contention between Mickleborough and Achter. Mickleborough argued that the previous contracts confirmed by text message indicated that the emoji signified Achter’s acceptance of the contract’s terms. On the other hand, Achter maintained that the emoji only indicated that he had received the contract.
During the legal proceedings, Achter’s lawyer objected to his client being cross-examined on the meaning of the thumbs-up emoji, arguing that Achter was not an expert in emojis.

Justice Timothy Keene, presiding over the case, even referenced a definition of the symbol from at one point. Keene acknowledged the extensive search for similar cases involving emojis from different jurisdictions, expressing his frustration over the need for such an exploration to determine the meaning of a 👍 emoji.

While recognising that a 👍 emoji is an unconventional method of “signing” a document, Keene concluded that, under the circumstances of this case, it was a valid way to indicate acceptance, fulfilling the purposes of a “signature.” He dismissed concerns that allowing the thumbs-up emoji to signify acceptance would lead to broader interpretations of other emojis like the ‘fist bump’ or ‘handshake,’ stating that the court should not attempt to hinder the advancements in technology and the common usage of emojis.

In his ruling, Keene emphasized that Canadian society is entering a new reality where emojis and similar forms of communication are prevalent. He also acknowledged that courts must be prepared to face the challenges that may arise from the use of emojis.