Introduction: In a first-of-its-kind ruling, a Canadian court has recognized that a “thumbs up”
emoji can be a legally binding acceptance of a contract. Yes, you heard that right – emojis now
have a place in the world of legal contracts. Welcome to the South West Terminal Ltd. v Achter
Land, 2023 SKKB 116 (CanLII) case aka, the “Canadian Emoji Case,” where a simple thumbs-
up emoji played a crucial role in determining the acceptance of a contract.
The Case Unveiled: In Saskatchewan, a farmer, Chris Achter, received a text from a grain
buyer, Kent Mickleborough, offering a contract to purchase Mr. Achter’s flax. Mickleborough
sent a photo of the contract and asked Achter to “please confirm flax contract.” In response,
Achter replied with a thumbs-up emoji. Little did he know that this seemingly innocuous gesture
would become the focal point of a legal decision that would garner international attention.
Justice T. J. Keene awarded SWT $82,200 in damages, plus interests and court costs in a
summary judgment in Swift Current on June 8.
The Changing Landscape of Communication: As technology shapes our daily lives, the
different ways in which we communicate can affect the ways that we enter into contracts. Once
upon a time, a contract was a formal document which had to be printed and signed in ink; with
the advent of email and electronic signature services, it has become much easier to enter into
written contracts – so it has become increasingly important to communicate clearly and
deliberately to avoid misunderstandings. The recent ruling by the Canadian court acknowledges
the growing influence of emojis in modern communication methods. Emojis have become a
concise and expressive language, with the power to convey intent and acceptance in
contractual relationships. This new landscape requires us to adapt to the changing ways in
which agreements are formed.
Decoding the Elements of a Contract: To understand the court’s decision, we must examine
the essential components of a valid common law contract: offer, acceptance, and consideration.
In the “Canadian Emoji Case,” Mickleborough’s text message served as the offer for the flax
contract. Achter’s response, in the form of a thumbs-up emoji, was deemed an acceptance of
the contract’s terms. Consideration was evident in the agreed-upon price and the expectation of
flax delivery. These seemingly small symbols played a significant role in establishing a legally
The Battle of Interpretation: The case sparked a battle of interpretation, with each party
offering their own perspective on the meaning behind the thumbs-up emoji. Mickleborough
argued that Achter’s response indicated his agreement to the contract’s terms, while Achter
claimed it was merely an acknowledgment of receipt. The court carefully analyzed the parties’
past interactions and concluded that Achter’s thumbs-up emoji constituted an acceptance of the
A Word of Caution: While emojis now have legal significance in contracts, caution is
necessary. Emojis can be open to interpretation and may carry different meanings for different
individuals. When engaging in business discussions via text, it is crucial to ensure clarity and
mutual understanding. Misinterpretation of emojis can lead to unexpected legal consequences.
Exercise prudence and seek clarity to avoid potential misunderstandings.
In Conclusion: Balancing Law and Modern Communication: With a common law ruling the
“Canadian Emoji Case” has thrust us into a world where a simple thumbs-up carries the weight
of acceptance of a complete contractual agreement. We must navigate this evolving landscape
carefully, particularly where corresponding by informal methods like iMessage, WhatsApp
has become the norm. Emojis have now become a part of our modern communication methods, and
it is essential to understand their legal implications. Pause before you respond, and make sure
that you are not inadvertently agreeing to something you didn’t mean to agree to. And, consult
with an experienced attorney about different procedures like email disclaimers that you can put
in place to avoid this kind of situation.
-Nathanael Amore and Sarah Hsia
Case Citation: South West Terminal Ltd. v Achter Land, 2023 SKKB 116 (CanLII)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of Rockstone Legal and do not
constitute legal advice.