A farmer in the Saskatchewan province of Canada has been ordered by a judge to pay hefty fine of $82,000 CAD, worth roughly $61,500 USD, after he sent a “thumbs-up” emoji to a client, according to the BBC.
The BBC report noted that the farmer, Chris Achter, had sent the “thumbs-up” emoji to a Kent Mickleborough who understood the emoji to mean that Achter was confirming agreement a contract. The contract stipulated that Achter was to deliver 86 tons of flax to Mickleborough.
Upon failing to make the delivery Mickleborough took legal action against Achter. The BBC additionally reports that the two men previously had an established business relationship, one in which Mickleborough alleged the Saskatchewan farmer had a history of agreeing to contracts via emoji confirmation.
Additionally, the BBC wrote Achter and Mickleborough had also previously spoken about the potential deal on the phone.
Achter claimed that the “thumbs-up” emoji he sent to Mickleborough was not to agree to a contract. According to the BBC report, Achter claimed in his sworn affidavit that the emoji "simply confirmed that I received the flax contract. It was not a confirmation that I agreed with the terms."
The BBC reported that Justice Timothy Keene, who presided over the case, ruled in favor of the plaintiff.
According to Dictionary.com, “the thumbs-up emoji is used to express assent, approval, or encouragement in digital communications, especially in Western cultures.”
The BBC relates that Justice Keene relied on this definition in making his decision, writing, "I am not sure how authoritative that is but this seems to comport with my understanding from my everyday use - even as a latecomer to the world of technology."
Justice Keene reasoned that, while a signature fundamentally is meant to represent someone confirming their identity, an emoji emoji can serve the same function in a digital form.
As online communication continues to develop and play roles in every aspect of social and business life, the precedent being set with Justice Keene’s ruling may prove highly influential.