Farmer fined £50,000 for using thumbs-up emoji in response to text message

7 July 2023, 06:20 | Updated: 7 July 2023, 06:28

A judge has ruled a thumbs-up emoji texted in response to a picture of a contract and a request to 'please confirm flax contract' amounted to an agreement.
A judge has ruled a thumbs-up emoji texted in response to a picture of a contract and a request to 'please confirm flax contract' amounted to an agreement. Picture: Getty
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

A farmer is facing a substantial fine after using an emoji in response to a text message contract.

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Chris Achter, from Saskatchewan, Canada, argued that the emoji was a mere acknowledgement of receipt, but a judge ruled it as an agreement to the terms outlined in the contract.

As a result, Achter has been ordered to pay C$82,000 ($61,610; £48,310) for his failure to fulfil the contractual obligations.

The legal dispute arose when Mr Achter failed to deliver 86 tonnes of flax that grain buyer Kent Mickleborough intended to purchase in 2021.

Subsequently, Mickleborough resorted to legal action. Mickleborough claimed that he had discussed the potential purchase with Achter over the phone, expressing his intention to buy the grain in November of that year.

He then sent a draft of the contract to the farmer via text message, including the phrase "please confirm flax contract."

In response, Achter conveyed his confirmation by using a "thumbs-up" emoji but failed to meet the specified deadline for delivering the flax.

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Mickleborough argued that he had previously entered into contracts with Achter through text messages, and thus, he believed that the emoji confirmed their agreement.

However, in his sworn affidavit, Achter stated that the thumbs-up emoji simply indicated that he had received the flax contract, but it did not signify his agreement to the contract's terms.

In a landmark ruling from the Court of King's Bench, issued in June of this year, Justice Timothy Keene sided with Mickleborough. The judge referenced a definition of the emoji from Dictionary.com, which states that it is used to express assent, approval, or encouragement in digital communication.

While acknowledging that a signature is the conventional way of confirming one's identity, Justice Keene maintained that modern-day methods, such as emojis, could also serve as valid means of confirming a contract. He declared that an emoji could function as a digital signature.

He leaned on a Dictionary.com definition of the emoji, which states that "it is used to express assent, approval or encouragement in digital communications".

"This court readily acknowledges that a thumbs-up emoji is a non-traditional means to 'sign' a document," Justice Keene wrote. "But nevertheless, under these circumstances, this was a valid way to convey the two purposes of a 'signature'": identifying the signatory (achieved through Mr. Achter's cell phone number) and conveying acceptance of the contract.

The judge recognized the novelty of the case, particularly in Saskatchewan, but emphasized that the court should not attempt to impede the progress of technology and common usage.

Thus, he concluded that the use of the thumbs-up emoji constituted a valid agreement in this context.

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