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Emojis could be heading to Australian courts, law firm warns

A Canadian court’s ruling that the “thumbs-up” emoji was sufficient evidence to validate a contract could soon make a difference in Australia, a compensation law firm has speculated.

user iconNaomi Neilson 19 July 2023 Big Law
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Canadian Justice Timothy Keene said courts should be prepared to adjust to a “new reality” when he ruled in favour of a grain company that considered the thumbs-up emoji to be a valid contract signature.

He was tasked with deciding the “use of a thumbs-up emoji and what that means in context” and ultimately concluded that in the background of the relationship between the two companies and their methods of communication, the emoji was “an action in electronic form that can be used to allow to express acceptance”.

According to Slater & Gordon, courts closer to home should also be ready to adjust to the new normal of digital communications.


“An Australian court can consider this legal decision when making a ruling; it can be thought of as a suggestion or advice from another court,” Andrew Rich, head of industrial and employment law, said.

He added that while it would not be a “binding precedent”, there may be “common scenarios” where a court could have the same issue.

“For example, your boss could send you a new contract, and you send a thumbs-up back intending to confirm you received it, and when you read it, you disagree with the terms.

“If that matter goes to court, there’s nothing stopping a judge [from] citing this decision,” Mr Rich said.

Mr Rich said the decision might mean that by just sending a thumbs-up emoji, “people may be locking themselves into a contract”.

While this is not cause to be afraid, Mr Rich warned people of what the “new realities” could be and the “challenges that the use of emojis and other new forms of communication create”.

“Just be careful,” Mr Rich said.

“When it comes to receiving and sending contracts, always be clear with what you mean [and] always read everything carefully. Seek legal advice if you feel uncomfortable.”

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