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Text Messages Can Be Valid Signatures in Business Disputes

The bulk of civil litigation in business law is not conducted by what are referred to as “sophisticated parties,” described by the Court as being aware of the risks of foreign legal systems, understanding the meaning of legal terms, familiar with negotiations, able to draft clear exclusion and limitation clauses, and well-advised by counsel.

Instead, many of these disputes are far more informal in nature, and often for smaller amounts that properly put these disputes within the monetary jurisdiction of the small claims court.

The nature of the communication in this contexts reflects this informality, and there is no shortage . . . [more]

Posted in: Substantive Law: Judicial Decisions

Electronic Signatures Revisited (But Why?)

Is an electronic signature valid in law? Twenty-five years after the Internet was opened to commercial use, that may seem to be a surprising question. An off-the-cuff response might be, “why shouldn’t it be?” The law does not prescribe a form or medium for a signature. Any method of associating a legal entity (human being, corporation, government) with a piece of information (document, text, inscription) will do the job, if the legal entity had the intention that the association should be for the purpose of signing it.

A signature may have many purposes, of course: to indicate consent, to show . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Technology

“Verifiable” E-Signatures

The transition from a world of legal documents on paper to one of electronic documents still encounters difficulties after all these years. One of the main ones seems to be the nature of the electronic signature. I recently described the focus on e-signatures as a “fetish” for its ability to distract analysis from the real issues or to create them when none really exist.

Much of the early law that intended to remove legal barriers to electronic commerce required that valid electronic signatures needed to be as reliable as appropriate in the circumstances. This requirement is misguided. It leaves the . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Technology

Recognizing That Handwritten Signatures Are a Weak Form of Authentication

Since its inception, the Cyberjustice Laboratory has studied every element and step of the legal process to see if and when technology could be used to facilitate, enhance, or even streamline procedures and, therefore, make the system more accessible and efficient. We are well aware that efficiency is often misconstrued as a “bad word” within the context of the legal system since (especially in criminal proceedings) cutting corners to speed up the process could have disastrous effects. However, managing resources and staff in a more efficient manner, while positively affecting delays, has little to do with the integrity of the . . . [more]

Posted in: Dispute Resolution

Electronic Signatures: Soulless and Unreliable?

As an aside to the discussion of a possible regulation on e-signatures in Ontario, I refer you to a recent article on the psychology of electronic signatures:“Paperless and Soulless: E-signatures Diminish the Signer’s Presence and Decrease Acceptance.”

It turns out that people don’t think that other people who sign electronically are as ‘engaged’ as they are if they sign by handwritten signature. As a result, they don’t think the e-signers are as likely to comply with obligations that they sign up for, and they don’t take e-signed documents as seriously as hand-signed ones or as likely to be . . . [more]

Posted in: Technology, ulc_ecomm_list

Electronic Signatures and Election Registration:  Case Comment on Getup Ltd. v Electoral Commissioner (Australia)

One of the principles governing how the law has come to terms with electronic or digital technology is that of media neutrality: the law should work the same way regardless of the medium by which information is created, communicated or stored. We do not want to create a parallel system of legal rules that apply only when certain technologies are used. We may need to adapt our usual rules to deal with special characteristics or applications of the technology, but these should disrupt normal expectations as little as possible. The challenge is to judge how far it is appropriate to . . . [more]

Posted in: Case Comment, Legal Technology

A Book Review: Stephen Mason, Electronic Signatures in Law (3d Edition, Cambridge University Press, 2012)

One of the fascinations of electronic communications is how they make many traditional questions of law new again. What is the nature of consent? Can one make an agreement with a machine (a computer)? How permanently must information be recorded before it can be considered ‘writing’? What is an original document? (Can one version of identical assemblies of bits usefully be called an original?) Where do instantaneous online transactions occur? And what is a signature?

Everybody knows that signatures are important. Children learn at an early age that signing something makes it special. We all sign a variety of documents . . . [more]

Posted in: Book Review, Legal Technology

Thursday Thinkpiece: Mason on Digital Signatures

Each Thursday we present a significant excerpt, usually from a recently published book or journal article. In every case the proper permissions have been obtained. If you are a publisher who would like to participate in this feature, please let us know via the site’s contact form.

Electronic Signatures in Law, 3rd Edition
Stephen Mason
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012

Excerpts chosen by the author: pp.229-231; 318-322

[Footnotes converted to endnotes and renumbered.]

Statute of Frauds

The question arose in the English case of J Pereira Fernandes SA v. Mehta[1] whether the name forming part of an e-mail address . . . [more]

Posted in: Thursday Thinkpiece

E-Signatures and Assents

Is clicking ‘OK’ on a web site the equivalent of a signature, or just an act of assenting with legal effect, e.g. to accept an offer to contract? Is there a useful or meaningful distinction any more between a signature and an act of assent (at least when the signature is intended to show assent)?

Recently an appellate court in the US found that clicking OK to a web form satisfied the requirements of the Copyright Act (US) that a transfer of copyright had to be in writing and signed by the transferor. The court relied on the Electronic Signatures . . . [more]

Posted in: Substantive Law: Foreign Law, Technology: Internet, ulc_ecomm_list

Voice Signatures

Has anyone had any experience with the use of the voice as a legal signature (presumably by way of a recording)? Is there any case law on the topic, one way or the other?

When we did the UECA in 1999, we had in mind that a voice mail message might be an electronic document and the association of the content with the speaker could well constitute a signature.

There is some law that a signature must be an intentional act, and whether just saying ‘Hello, it’s John, I accept your offer to sell me your house’ would constitute an . . . [more]

Posted in: Technology, ulc_ecomm_list

Brevity Is the Soul of Email Signatures

If I offered you a free means of advertising your name, profession and contact information every time you sent an email, would you leap at the chance? Surprisingly, many lawyers don’t.

I’m referring to the email signature—an electronic version of your business card that you can attach automatically at the end of an email message. It’s a neat and tidy way of letting everyone know your name, your firm, your contact information and anything else you care to add—every time you send an email message. Many lawyers still send emails without an automatic email signature. At best, this is a . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Marketing

EU Launches Public Consulltation on E-Signatures

The European Union has begun a public consultation on online authentication in the context of its review of its Electronic Signature Directive of 1999.

An early assertion in the press release is this: “difficulties in verifying people’s identities and signatures are a significant factor holding back the development of the EU’s online economy.”

Is this true, in your view or in your experience? How often is identification of the other party to a transaction, or authentication of an identity one already knows, a concern, compared to, for example, the solvency of the party, the quality of the goods offered, the . . . [more]

Posted in: Substantive Law: Foreign Law, ulc_ecomm_list